By Matt Rogers
Throughout the history of Major League Baseball, Latino players have played a large role in the success and popularity of the league. The number of Latino players has risen greatly in recent years because of the level of talent of the players. Usually, scouts for MLB teams can go into Latino countries, like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. The one Latino country that American scouts have not had much luck with is the island of Cuba.
Players that come from Cuba to play in Major League Baseball have to illegally defect from their country in order to do so. Ways that some of these players have reportedly defected are to stray away from the team during international team play in foreign countries and by boat to the port of Miami, Florida. If these people are caught by the Cuban Coast Guard, they are usually jailed for large numbers of years. This makes it difficult for these players to come to the United States to play because they are forbidden by the Cuban government to play in the United States, unless they are traveling with the Cuban national team.
Defection has become more prevalent for Cuban players in recent years because of the money that they can make in the Major Leagues as opposed to the amount they are paid to play in Cuba. The players often leave behind their families to come to the United States because they live and play in such poor conditions in Cuba. This was portrayed in a recent ESPN 30 for 30 film, Brothers in Exile, which told the story about brothers Livan and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Both of the brothers played pivotal roles on two championship MLB teams in the late 1990’s.
Some of the more prominent players that have defected from the island of Cuba to play in the Major Leagues are Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez (who topped Puig in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting), Jose Abreu, and most recently, Yasmany Tomas. All of these players, with the exception of Fernandez, signed contracts north of $40 million, before ever playing in a Major League or Minor League game.
In the future, given the popularity of baseball on the island of Cuba, the number of Cuban defectors coming to the MLB should continue to rise. The talent of Cuban defectors that sign contracts with Major League team is spectacular. So, too, are the stories of triumph that each of them offers.