December 17, 2015

hISTORY eNDS EVERYWHERE:

Triumphant return for Cuban baseball defectors Puig, Abreu (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, 12/17/15, Associated Press)

A lineup of Cuban-born baseball stars, including some of the most famous defectors in recent memory, made a triumphant return to the island as part of the first Major League Baseball trip here since 1999.

Once the object of official disdain in Cuba for leaving the country illegally, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena and first baseman Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox were swarmed by fans and members of the state media Tuesday in the lobby of Havana's soaring Hotel Nacional at the start of a three-day mission meant to warm relations between MLB and Cuba.

The major leagues and Cuban baseball have been moving quickly to rebuild ties since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared a year ago Thursday that they would re-establish diplomatic relations. The official return of baseball defectors earning millions in the major leagues was a landmark in the new relationship and a dramatic manifestation of Cuba's shifting attitude toward the hundreds of players who have abandoned the country that trained them.

Puig, who fled to Mexico in a smuggler's fast-boat in 2012 and then crossed the border to Texas, wrapped his childhood coach Juan Arechavaleta in a bear-hug, resting the side of his face atop the smaller man's head.

"I'm very happy to be here," said Puig, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract and was barred from returning to Cuba until he was granted special permission for this week's trip.

Pena, who is from Havana, was met by at least 20 family members. They laughed at stories of the catcher's life in America and handed him the phone to talk to relatives who hadn't been able to make it to the hotel.

Posted by at December 17, 2015 6:27 PM

  

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