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MLB confirms talks over exhibition games in Cuba

Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred has said the league is engaged in talks with the US government over the possibility of staging exhibition games in Cuba.

The island nation has not staged a MLB game since 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuba national team in a match that ended a 40-year gap since the last visit of an MLB side. However, Cuba had been a regular host of US teams and MLB spring training sessions before Fidel Castro came to power.

Despite this absence, Cuba and the US have retained a long-term connection through baseball with a number of Cuban-born players having gone on to play professionally in MLB, such as Yasiel Puig (pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Improving diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba have led to some reports of the MLB potentially reigniting its ties with the country. 

Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players Association, said earlier this month that discussions about staging games in Cuba were “ongoing” and there had been talks about the country staging games this spring, but admitted that there had not been enough time to finalise details.

Manfred has now also confirmed talks about the possibility of staging exhibition games in Cuba as part of an effort to capitalise on the country’s interest in the sport and strengthen the MLB's presence on a global basis.

“Cuba is a great market for us two ways,” Manfred said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “It’s obviously a great talent market. We've seen enough of that during the offseason. It’s a country where baseball is embedded in the culture, and we like countries where baseball is embedded in the culture.”

Manfred’s comments come after he this month outlined his vision for new franchises from outside the US to be added to MLB. He said that while Canada offers one potential option for an expansion franchise, MLB will also consider Latin America due to the heavy interest in baseball across the region.

The commissioner has now backed up these comments by stating that MLB could also stage exhibition matches in Latin American countries. He said: “It is some place that would be feasible for us to do in an ongoing basis. I think that people view Miami as sort of a jumping-off point to Latin America. I do see Latin America as a place where baseball already has great popularity but also has a great potential for growth from an international perspective.

“It's great to go someplace and play a couple of games. It generates interest here domestically. But when I think about international activity I want to do more than play two games someplace and go back five years later.”