Major League Baseball returns to Cuba and the crowd both roars and growls

 

Major league baseball’s return to Cuba for an exhibition game this month is going to be a real talker. Wouldn’t have taken much, though, to turn it into a screamer.

Workers paint the walls outside the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball arena in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. On the same week as the visits by Obama and The Rolling Stones, the Tampa Bay Rays are expected to play the first Major League Baseball exhibition game in Cuba since 1999, part of an extraordinary string of events in a country that spent the Cold War isolated from the United States and its allies. Cuba and its capital have been flooded with tourists, visiting dignitaries and celebrities more than a year after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were moving to normalize relations. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Workers paint the walls outside the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball arena in Havana, Cuba, on March 1, 2016. On the same week as the visits by Obama and The Rolling Stones, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the first Major League Baseball exhibition game in Cuba since 1999, part of an extraordinary string of events in a country that spent the Cold War isolated from the United States and its allies. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

As it is, the Tampa Bay Rays will be playing an exhibition against the Cuban national team in Havana on March 22 as negotiated by Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff. Plenty of interest there for people on both sides of the issue of improving diplomatic and economic relations between the U.S. and the Communist nation right next door.

Imagine if the Miami Marlins were the team selected by MLB to make this trip rather than the Rays.

Now imagine that Ozzie Guillen was still the manager of the Marlins, and that nobody had remembered to put a strip of masking tape across his mouth, just in case.

Step it up another notch. Imagine if Jose Fernandez, who defected from Cuba in 2008, were named the Marlins’ starting pitcher in that game.

And consider the potential consequences if Fidel Castro was deemed sufficiently healthy to make a rare public appearance, mingling pregame on the field with players from both teams as he did in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition there.

Now move the date of the game just a bit, from March 22 to March 15. That’s when Florida’s presidential primary will be contested. Imagine the debate questions and responses leading up to that collision on the calendar.

Could any or all of this have happened?

Hey, it’s 2016. The way things are going, it’s kind of a shock that it didn’t.