CubaBrief: Cuba’s Castro dictatorship politicizes baseball and that deserves a response. Cuban baseball player defects after World Baseball Classic

The Castro dictatorship’s baseball team was crushed last night by the United States 14-2. Cuba’s diaspora undermined the government’s narrative of normalcy by calling for the end of the dictatorship and the release of political prisoners, both of which are positive things. Today, it was learned that Ivan Prieto, a bullpen catcher for Cuba’s national baseball team, defected. This is a public relations fiasco for the Cuban dictatorship.

Ivan Prieto defected from the Cuban national team.

Nevertheless, non-violent tactics, such as boycotts, should be used to hold individuals and organizations accountable who helped the regime sportswash its true nature. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an intergovernmental organization that supports sustainable democracy worldwide, defines sportswashing in its blog as follows.

Whilst there is no single authoritative definition of sportswashing, there is broad consensus on its core elements: it is a phenomenon in which (1) sports are used (2) by a state or non-state actor (3) to launder the actor’s reputation. The manner in which sports are exploited in this way is theoretically unlimited, but the most common include: hosting sporting events and owning or sponsoring sports teams and competitions.

The Castro regime has decades of experience in sportswashing, and it is one element in their effective influence and propaganda operations both internally and internationally. In the Tweet below a Provincial committee official of the Cuban Communist Party in Granma.states:

“Baseball has the greatest motivation, The Team Captain, our historical leader, Our Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Rúz. On March 26 we will give one more demonstration to the Revolution.”

Castro died in 2016, but official channels continue to use the dead tyrant in their official propaganda.

The dictatorship and its functionaries systematically politicize sporting events, and without any sense of irony denounce dissidents who respond calling for an end to dictatorship, and the freedom of all political prisoners as politicizing their politicized event. Cubans want to live in freedom, and that includes many baseball players who are tired of being treated as chattel and pawns of a 64 year old dictatorship run by the Castro family. This is a great part of the reason why they leave.

Center for a Free Cuba’s Chairman Guillermo Marmol said earlier today that “Ivan Prieto is the latest Cuban to flee the Castro dictatorship to live in freedom. Ivan Prieto  is a Cuban athlete who just defected from Cuba’s baseball team visiting Miami,” Marmol observed and added “It is obvious that only folks escaping tyranny defect. Athletes from Central Europe no longer seek asylum because they no longer live under Communism. No Dominican baseball players try to escape.”

Ivan Prieto is not the only one. There have been many others. Seth Rock in an OpEd published in the Houston Chronicle on November 2, 2021 referenced 12 defections of Cuban ball players that took place in 2021, and how the dictatorship maligned them.

In October 2021 “nine of the 24 players on Cuba’s national baseball team sent to compete in Mexico for a tournament made the same decision” that Ivan Prieto made: to defect. “Cuban officials labeled this spell of defections as ‘vile abandonments’ and swiftly slandered the young ballplayers as possessing ‘weak morals and ethics.’ Individuals labeled “deserters” are banned from entering Cuba for at least eight years and their family members are prohibited from leaving the country to join them.”

“Three Cuban players defected during an Olympic qualification tournament in May [2021], and for the first time in its history, the Caribbean nation failed to qualify for Olympic baseball.”

Major League Baseball has been trying for years to push through a dealt with the Castro regime that raises uneasiness among free Cubans. Former Cuban prisoner of conscience Regis Iglesias in an OpEd in Diario Las Américas on September 11, 2022 explained some of his concerns.

…”The MLB institution or the MLB Players Association came up with the idea of ​​allowing some franchises to visit Cuba for “friendly” matches or much worse, to make “agreements” with those who enslave not only our athletes, but all our people. I will always protest and condemn those unsupportive positions. MLB cannot be a repressive extension of the Cuban Baseball Federation and the criminal and segregationist regime in Cuba. 

Rob Manfred is not the owner of the farm like the commandants of the island and he cannot pressure the players with simplistic reasoning and opportunism to maintain the status quo with the tyranny or take shameful steps of recognition of it.” … “MLB’s agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation cannot be proudly brandished as it is part of the recognition of an institution, supposedly independent from a free country, to a repressive and segregationist institution from a country subjected to the tyranny of a communist party.”

This has been going on for a long time. Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, in 1999 attended a baseball game with Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, and the Daily News published an account of the encounter on November 27, 2016, shortly after Castro’s death.

Major League Baseball has lost its way kowtowing to tyrants. Seeking to grow their market in China Miken Sports, a baseball equipment brand that provides business to the league announced that they were going to shut down their production plant in Minnesota, and move it to China. Due to the outcry generated when the story broke, they kept the business open with 35 jobs in Minnesota, but moved 30 to Communist China.

Embracing enemies of the United States, and shipping manufacturing jobs from the United States to Communist China should give people of conscience pause before handing their hard earned cash to Major League Baseball., March 20, 2023

Reports: Cuban baseball player defects after World Baseball Classic

Roy Ramos, Reporter

Veronica Crespo, Digital Journalist

Janine Stanwood, Anchor/Reporter

MIAMI – The Center for a Free Cuba in Washington has confirmed Ivan Prieto, a bullpen catcher for Cuba’s national baseball team, defected following the World Baseball Classic in Miami on Sunday.

Video from La Familia Cubana shows Cuba’s national team at Miami International Airport as they prepared to return to Cuba and Prieto was not there.

Outspoken activist and critic of the Cuban government, Ramon Sanchez, spoke out about how it was likely no easy task for Prieto to separate himself from the team, management and staff who many believe have been closely watching each player for fear they may defect.

“Just before boarding the plane, he just vanished so we suspect he has defected. They tried. We learned that they had kept them in a bus for a couple of hours just before the game trying to contain them,” said Sanchez.

Late Monday, a woman who said she is the first cousin of Prieto told Local 10 News he is with his brother and for now, they are staying with friends.

She said it’s not been easy for the family he left behind in Cuba, including an infant daughter.

This year’s season was the first time since 2006 the Cuban national team advanced to the semi-finals.

The incident comes after a game that drew much controversy with protestors like Carlos Alvarez, Antonio Fernandez and Danilo Maldonado-Machado, seizing the moment at Loan Depot Park on Sunday. The trio ran onto the field with a sign that read: “Freedom for the Cuban prisoners arrested July 11th.”

Hundreds of people were arrested in Cuba after protestors took to the streets on the communist island in July 2021.

“They are not alone, and we are going to do whatever it is that is possible until they are free,” said Maldonado-Machado.

The three protestors were arrested on Sunday but have since been released from jail. They are facing misdemeanor charge of trespassing.

Prieto is the only player believed to have defected.

“Everybody wants to live in a free county. Even as baseball players in Cuba they are a little bit better off. Come on, them make $30 a month,” said Sanchez.

The Cuban government has yet to respond to reports of Prieto’s defection.

There’s no word on whether Prieto will be granted asylum in the U.S.

Copyright 2023 by WPLG

Babalu Blog, March 20, 2023

Cuba’s Castro dictatorship politicizes baseball and that deserves a response

March 20, 2023 by Alberto de la Cruz

For Cuba’s communist dictatorship, everything is politicized and everything is a potential propaganda tool, including baseball. That’s why protests at the World Baseball Classic game were so important.

Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter explains:

Totalitarian regimes politicize everything, especially sports. The Democratic resistance has a duty to counter them

The Castro dictatorship’s baseball team was defeated tonight 14-2 by the United States, Cuba’s democratic resistance shattered the regime’s narrative calling for an end to dictatorship, freedom for political prisoners, and these are both good things. However those complicit with the dictatorship in sport washing its true nature must also be held to account through non-violent means.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has repeatedly made two crucial mistakes, one that has been made by others, first the professional baseball organization has confused the Castro dictatorship’s junta with the Cuban people, and second to highlight social justice issues in the United States, but ignoring them outside the United States, in places like China and Cuba to go into business with tyrants.

Tonight the league compounded their first two errors, with a third by attempting to censor free Cubans attending the World Baseball Classic semi-final tonight in Miami as the teams of the United States, and the Cuban dictatorship face off.

The bad faith argument that Cuban exiles should not politicize the game ignores that this whole spectacle is a propaganda exercise of the Castro dictatorship. A former Cuban ball player called out the hypocrisy in the March 18, 2023 article by Nora Gámez Torres, “Cuba’s national baseball team’s game in Miami revives old political battles.”

“Edilberto Oropesa, a former Cuban pitcher who played in Major League Baseball from 2001-04, said he doesn’t agree with those who have accepted the Cuban government’s invitation to join the national team. But said he respects their decision.” “It’s a free country,” he told the Miami Herald.

He also believes that players on the island do not have much room to dissent if they have decided to stay and live there. “Those who made the Cuba team knew they had to do what they [government officials] say,” Oropesa added.

Last year, Oropesa and other Cuban exiles created the Association of Cuban Professional Baseball Players. They tried to assemble a team of Cubans playing in professional leagues worldwide that could represent the island at the World Baseball Classic.

But the WBC didn’t allow it because its rules grant such rights only to national federations. The former pitcher pushed back against those arguing that politics should not be brought into sports.

“They were the ones that brought in politics since 1959 when they took away professional baseball,” he said, speaking of the Cuban government. “It is something Machiavellian that they are doing for their interests …

Totalitarian regimes politicize everything, especially sports to legitimize themselves, and mask their true nature. The Democratic resistance has a duty to counter them. Failing to do so, and allowing the regime narrative to dominate can be dangerous to freedom, and have far reaching and unexpected consequences.

Continue reading HERE.

Fox News, March 20, 2023

Published March 20, 2023 7:30am EDT

Anti-Communist protests take center stage during World Baseball Classic between US and Cuba

At least three protesters were removed for running onto the field during the game

By Ryan Gaydos | Fox News

Anti-Communist protesters gathered outside loanDepot Park ahead of the World Baseball Classic matchup between the United States and Cuba on Sunday night in Miami.

The Miami Marlins’ ballpark played host to the semifinals matchup between the two baseball juggernauts. However, before the first pitch was thrown, hundreds of protesters yelled at anyone associated with the former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to leave the community.

In the sixth inning, a protester waved a flag that said, “Libertad Para Los Presos Cubanos Del 11 de Julio.” According to the AP, the message meant “Freedom for Cuban Prisoners of July 11. The message called for the freedom of protesters who were arrested in 2021 to protest the shortages of goods, power blackouts and economic hardships.

Cuba manager Armando Johnson tried to keep the focus on the sport.

“We’re just here for baseball, for the sport,” Johnson said. “That’s what I do … I’m not a police officer.”

Johnson was asked whether it bothered him that many Cubans do not identify with the team.

“It feels bad, but I don’t judge,” he added. “Like I said, everyone has his or her way of thinking. We are on the field and we come here just to play baseball and the sport. That’s what we wanted to do here.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan Gaydos is a senior editor for Fox News Digital.

Sports Illustrated, March 20, 2023

The Cuba-USA Baseball Rivalry Is Not What It Used to Be

By Tom Verducci

Time erodes even the most adamantine of rivalries. Athens vs. Sparta. Leno vs. Letterman. USA vs. Cuba in baseball.

What was once the most hot-blooded, geopolitical-infused hardball rivalry on the planet devolved into a tepid mismatch Sunday night. In what otherwise has been a thrilling World Baseball Classic, the expected tension and heat of an international semifinal game withered into a varsity-vs.-JV scrimmage.

In the Little Havana section of Miami, Cuba played USA on U.S. soil for the first time since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, around the time Arnold Schwarzenegger was starring as a U.S. marshal in Eraser. It was a long time ago. Action heroes and the rivalry have not aged well.

By a 14–2 score that understates the talent gap, Team USA waxed a Cuban team loaded with cast-offs, 30-something Mexican League hangers-on and post-glory-days veterans who filled their all-red uniforms the way burly Boog Powell did those similarly monochromatic 1975 Cleveland unis, which were so bad the players back then offered to buy blue jerseys themselves.

“That’s the biggest Bloody Mary I ever saw,” Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger said upon catching sight of Boog in all red. Powell did him one better. “I feel like a massive blood clot,” he said.

The only competitive drama Sunday night came from loanDepot Park security personnel trying to run down protesters trespassing on the massive outfield during the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. One unfurled a “Freedom for Cuba” banner. In each case, the ensuing slow-speed serpentine chases provided a diversion from the blowout.

The game was staged in a county, Miami-Dade, with the highest concentration of Cuban Americans in the U.S.—850,000 residents, or almost one out of every three persons in the county. When Cuba plays baseball, politics is not just a backdrop, but also a major narrative thread. Chants and political statements came at moments that had nothing to do with the action on the field.

“This,” said 40-year-old USA starter Adam Wainwright, “was the most crazy environment I ever played in.”

The youngest of players on Team USA have no idea of the intensity that once defined the USA-vs.-Cuba rivalry. Back at the Atlanta Games, at the height of tension, U.S. manager Skip Bertman referred to the rivalry as “Americanism vs. socialism. … It’s probably the only such rivalry in the world.” Congress had just passed the Helms-Burton Act, strengthening what has been the most enduring trade embargo in modern history. The Cubans were so good, Bertman said, that his young collegians (the oldest was 22 years old) had no chance to beat Cuba in a best-of-five series but maybe could be lucky enough to beat them in a single game. “They’re the best team in the world,” he said.

The U.S. lost, 10–8. When Cuba manager Jorge Fuentes was asked whether the contest was more than a game, carrying political ramifications, he said, “Absolutely. Absolutely yes. I will talk to our president about this game sometime soon.”

He knew Fidel Castro, the old left-handed pitcher, would be thrilled, as would every Cuban who considered baseball a source of national and political pride. Or as Fuentes put it, “Victory has many fathers, but a loss is an orphan.”

That victory, Cuba claimed, was its 140th consecutive win in international competition. (Other sources had the winning streak at either 123 or 131). Cuba won the gold medal that year, just as it had in 1992 and would again in 2004.

“It’s our pastime,” said USA first baseman Travis Lee, “but it’s their life.”

But as some of its best players sought to escape oppression and the lack of personal freedom, Cuban baseball eroded as surely as did the economy. At 3 a.m. one morning in 2010, for instance, a pitcher for Guantanamo named Roenis Elías jumped into a boat with five other players and under the cover of darkness pushed off from Havana, leaving a mother and father he would not see for years. Thirty hours later, the men reached shore in Cancún, Mexico. Elías signed the next year with the Mariners.

Cuba hasn’t won an international competition in years. It is 1–7 against the U.S. in its past eight meetings, including this first matchup in the WBC.

Last December, the U.S. granted Cuba permission to include minor league and major league players on its WBC roster for the first time. The Cuban Baseball Federation made selective invites, turning a cold shoulder to players who defected during international competitions and those who had been critical of the regime. It did add White Sox teammates Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert Jr., the only major leaguers in its lineup. Elías, who defected out of competition, also received an invite and took the ball to start the semifinal game against the U.S.

Now 34 and without any above-average pitch, Elías was overmatched by the relentless U.S. lineup. Three batters in, he was down 2–1, thanks to a missile of a home run by Paul Goldschmidt, who had four RBIs on the night.

“Honestly,” Goldschmidt said, “it’s one of my favorite home runs I’ve ever hit in my entire life.”

It never did get any better for Cuba. The U.S. scored 13 times before Cuba obtained a 17th out. Trea Turner smacked two homers, giving him three in a five-at-bat run. Poor Armando Johnson—the Cuban manager must have walked a mile changing and counseling pitchers.

The Cuban offense was no better. The starting lineup included two players released by the Dodgers—five and seven years ago—a right fielder who hit .225 in indy ball last year and Boog-like 36-year-old Alfredo Despaigne, playing in his 20th season. The Cubans made it to the semifinal largely by getting through an easy pool as a runner-up, squeaking by Australia by one run.

In fairness, the Cubans could not be blamed for being road weary. In the past two weeks or so, they have flown 85% of the circumference of the earth, from Havana to Paris to Tokyo to Okinawa to Taipei to Tokyo to Miami, the last leg covering 7,437 miles and 13 hours.

Cuba could do next to nothing even against Wainwright, who had trouble fielding his position and again lacked his usual modest velocity. Last season major league pitchers threw 30,711 four-seam fastballs in the first innings. Only one of them failed to register at least 86 mph (by Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs.) Wainwright threw three of them against Cuba. Gamely, Wainwright did survive a rally built on weak contact in the first inning to save the bullpen for manager Mark DeRosa.

DeRosa’s key decision will be who to start in the championship game Tuesday against the winner of Mexico vs. Japan on Monday night.

“Obviously, it looks like Merrill Kelly’s [throw] day,” DeRosa said, but then added he would have to huddle with his staff before deciding on his starter. Lefthander Kyle Freeland could also be considered, or Brady Singer, though Singer was on call in the bullpen Sunday night, which would indicate he was not being saved. More importantly, DeRosa has a full bullpen locked and loaded, with his best options, Kendall Graveman, Jason Adam, David Bednar, Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly in line for the final five innings, or earlier if trouble presents.

Should Japan get through Mexico, the USA might get Shohei Ohtani on the mound in the championship game. If so, Ohtani would be turning a throw day into a start and might get only an inning or two. But even then, you might get to see Ohtani pitching the first inning against Mookie Betts, Angels teammate Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt, the three MVPs at the top of the rolling USA lineup. That alone would be worth the price of admission.

USA vs. Cuba in Little Havana turned out to be a noncompetitive affair. Whatever awaits Tuesday will assuredly provide better baseball and less political angst.

From the archives

Houston Chronicle, November 2, 2021

Opinion: When you cheer for Cuban Astros players, remember why they defected

By Seth Rock

Yordan Álvarez. Aledmys Díaz. Yuli Gurriel. What do three Astros players vying for the title of World Series champions have in common with their opponents, Guillermo Heredia and Jorge Soler of the Atlanta Braves? They each made the decision to defect from Cuba — and have opportunities denied to them in their homeland — in order to realize their immense talent in the United States. To play in Major League Baseball means to forfeit life in Cuba and be branded a traitor by the Cuban government.

During historic protests in July, Cubans shouted “Patria y Vida” or “Homeland and Life,” expressing their desire to control their own destiny and that of their home — something impossible to achieve if the current regime stays in power. While food shortages and lack of access to vaccines played a part in spurring the protests, as noted in this summer’s media coverage, the overwhelming message is that political change is what the people seek. Americans and the U.S. government should not mistake the Cuban people’s demands for liberty as a sign of being unpatriotic, but rather as a form of optimism rooted in loyalty to their country.

A few weeks ago, at least nine of the 24 players on Cuba’s national baseball team sent to compete in Mexico for a tournament made the same decision these MLB players made: to defect. Cuban officials labeled this spell of defections as “vile abandonments” and swiftly slandered the young ballplayers as possessing “weak morals and ethics.” Individuals labeled “deserters” are banned from entering Cuba for at least eight years and their family members are prohibited from leaving the country to join them.

Three Cuban players defected during an Olympic qualification tournament in May, and for the first time in its history, the Caribbean nation failed to qualify for Olympic baseball. This contrasts with Cuba’s illustrious run that earned them three gold and two silver medals; for comparison, the U.S. has won one gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

During Fidel Castro’s ascent to power in 1959, Cuba was MLB’s primary source of baseball talent from Latin America, with 16 players in the league (the Dominican Republic — another source of baseball talent — had two). The flow of Cuban players slowed to a trickle in the following decades, until rising in the 1990s during Cuba’s “Special Period” which saw a wave of defections occur after the collapse of the Soviet Union. American baseball has benefited greatly from this influx; Álvarez was just named most valuable player of this year’s American League Championship Series and Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays, a fellow Cuban, earned the same honor the year before.

To understand why freedom is so desired by Cubans one need only look at the government’s response to the thousands who called for an end to the 62-year-old communist government. The protesters were met by riot police who used rubber bullets and tear gas; telecommunications were cut off in an effort to prevent communication between protesters as well as with foreign media. Of the over 1,000 individuals who were arrested, at least half remain detained or under house arrest today.

As we root for the Astros, and the Cuban players who contribute to the team’s success, we must acknowledge the cost of their gift. Any efforts by the Cuban Communist Party to label dissidents as traitors should be rejected. Instead, we should show strong support for their struggle for freedom, as our issue lies not with the Cuban people but with their government. Cuba’s loss, both in baseball players and people, has been America’s gain and freedom is at the root of both.

Seth Rock is a Cuban-American junior studying economics and international relations at Colgate University.

The Washington Free Beacon, September 29, 2021

National Security

MLB Ships Jobs to China To Build Closer Relationship With CCP

League hopes to build ‘baseball ecosystem’ in China

Jack Beyrer

September 29, 2021

Major League Baseball is expanding its partnership with the Chinese Communist Party, coming at the expense of U.S. jobs and growing Chinese influence over America’s pastime.

The country’s leading propaganda outlet China Daily on Aug. 20 touted the MLB’s attempts to build a “baseball ecosystem” within the country. The league has grown its network to more than 100 Chinese baseball teams in 20 cities, with a growing fanbase of millions. The league’s operations in cahoots with Beijing are not just limited to play—quality U.S. jobs are also at stake. Miken Sports, a baseball equipment brand that provides business to the league, folded a Minnesota production plant and moved its nearly 70 jobs to China.

The league’s interest in exporting jobs and resources to China is drawing fierce rebukes from lawmakers. Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R., Minn.), whose district includes the Miken plant, introduced a resolution on Wednesday obtained by the Washington Free Beacon blasting the MLB for taking away American jobs.

​​”Baseball is considered to be America’s national pastime, so it is completely outrageous that the MLB has decided to shut down the Miken Sports plant in Caledonia and outsource American jobs to communist China—directly defying the MLB’s position as an American sports league,” Hagedorn said. “Miken has been one of the largest employers in Caledonia for decades, and this community will face major hardships and job losses due to this closure. We are urging the MLB to reverse this decision, purchase products that are made in America, and work to keep these jobs at home.”

The MLB has also tapped savvy business professionals with deep ties to Chinese industry to oversee production. Tony Qi, the managing director of MLB China, leads the league’s operations in China. The MLB tapped Qi to grow activities in China in 2019, citing his work with Chinese state media, tech supergiant Tencent, and other Chinese conglomerates. In an August interview, Qi praised the Chinese government for its cooperation and assistance in establishing the MLB brand in China.

“Government policy is also a huge help,” Qi said. “China is now aiming to let the next generation enjoy various sports, and has implemented a series of preferential policies. So more and more baseball clubs are growing in China. … The baseball environment has changed dramatically since MLB entered the Chinese market.”

The MLB did not return a request for comment. The MLB Players Association did not return a request for comment.

Ambitious efforts from the league come shortly after the MLB appealed to Chinese tech giant Tencent—noted for its surveillance activities, human rights abuses, and ties to the military—to grow its brand. The league signed a three-year contract with the Chinese company in 2021 to stream games across Asia. Chinese state media framed the agreement as a step forward for Sino-American relations, even as the two countries feud over issues such as the genocide of Uyghur Muslims, economic espionage, and military buildup.

The MLB’s cooperation with the Chinese regime also comes amid Beijing’s criticism of American domestic political figures for alleged civil rights abuses. The league moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest of a voting law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R., Ga.), citing the need for the league to express its “values.”

Michael Sobolik, a fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the values expressed by the league more resemble a “cynical PR campaign” than a stand on principle.

“It’s telling that Major League Baseball pulled out of Georgia for the All-Star Game over concerns with voting legislation, but is entirely comfortable with operating in a nation with an ongoing genocide,” Sobolik said. “If your corporate values abroad don’t match your corporate values at home, you aren’t standing on principle; you’re just running a cynical PR campaign. The CCP routinely exploits this inconsistency in U.S. companies eager to access China’s market. Every time American businesses choose their own economic wealth over human rights, they write the Party’s propaganda for them.”

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R., Ga.) told the Free Beacon the MLB is another example of big business “playing politics” and caving to the “woke mob.”

USA Today, December 17, 2015

Fidel Castro’s son sees baseball as unifying Cuba, U.S.

Nancy Armour


Fidel Castro with his son Antonio Castro.

​Castro is quick to avoid questions about his father, Fidel, and how the former president views the recent rule changes. Desmond Boylan/Reuters/Landov

MATANZAS, Cuba —  The symbolism was striking: Exactly one year after President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba, the two countries’ flags flew side by side atop the scoreboard at Estadio Victoria de Giron.

A scoreboard featuring a massive photograph of Fidel Castro.

Castro’s youngest son, Antonio, has a passion for baseball rather than the family business of politics. But he’s well aware — more than ever after these last three days — of how baseball could be a catalyst to help repair five decades of bitterness and distrust between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

“We’re conscious of what baseball means. What we’ve experienced today, and what we’ve experienced these last couple of days, is very exciting,” Castro said Thursday in a rare interview with American reporters.

“Those of us who work for baseball always have the fans on our minds,” Castro added. “This is just the beginning. I hope to one day be able to say, ‘Well done.’ “

Castro chose his words carefully, conscious of not contradicting the official position of the Cuban government, which is now led by his uncle, Raul. But his actions this week spoke louder than any statement he could have made.

As vice president of the Cuban baseball federation, Antonio Castro was instrumental in arranging Major League Baseball’s goodwill tour. But he did more than push through paperwork, actively and enthusiastically participating every step of the way.

He was at both of the kids’ clinics MLB put on, mingling with baseball officials and players. He was often seen chatting with Dan Halem, baseball’s chief labor officer. He and Joe Torre, now MLB’s chief baseball officer, got to be fast friends, bonding over a mutual acquaintance and their love for the game.

But perhaps most telling was Castro’s interactions with the four Cuban-born players on the tour, particularly recent defectors Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu.

It would have been unthinkable for either Puig or Abreu to return to their homeland even a few months ago, considered by the Cuban government to be traitors. Yet Castro hailed them as the returning heroes they are to the Cuban people.

“Don’t separate Cuban players,” Castro said when asked about the prospects of fielding a “unified” Cuban team at the next World Baseball Classic.

“They’re all Cubans.”

And he treated them as such.

When Puig and Abreu stood next to each other after Thursday’s clinic, waiting to do a TV interview, Castro took photos of them. As they signed autographs, Castro ran items back and forth to fans.

“We’re experiencing an era with a new relationship with Major League Baseball and the Players Association, one where we want the baseball players to play baseball,” Castro said. “And where they live in a normal world and they have the same rights.

“… We’re working on a new relationship, one based on respect, where baseball is the language spoken.”

Asked if he thought Puig and Abreu will be able to return home again soon, Castro didn’t say yes.

But he didn’t say no, either.

“We’re working with Major League Baseball,” Castro said. “Like I’ve repeated several times, this is all part of the new relationship. Let’s see what happens in the future.

“We’re not Nostradamus.”

Both MLB and the Cuban federation hope this tour will lead to future league events here. Halem said Tuesday he remains “cautiously optimistic” of games here during spring training, with the Tampa Bay Rays already chosen as the team to participate.

And given the jubilation surrounding this tour, it’s hard not to imagine it becoming a regular event.

The bigger issues involving the free movement of Cuban players — both to the major leagues and between the two countries — will take longer to resolve, and are dependent on further cooperation between the two governments.

Already, relations are improving at a rapid pace. Mail service recently resumed, and an agreement allowing U.S. airlines to operate regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba was announced Thursday – while the clinic was going on, in fact.

To credit baseball for this progress is too simplistic. But when icy silence is all the countries have shared for half a century, common ground has to be found somewhere.

“Through baseball, we’re uniting countries,” Castro said. “We’ll work so that one day we can say this is just one of many anniversaries. We don’t work to celebrate anniversaries. We work to live in a normal world, where we can all live in peace through the game of baseball.”

For anyone who doubts whether that can happen, just check out the scoreboard.

Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.