HAVANA – As early as this year, young Cubans could participate in the U.S.-based World Series of Little League Baseball International.
The Cuban Baseball Federation and Little League International signed an agreement that will allow Cuban youth to join the international community in the popular annual series.
Up until this point, Little League International has programs in 84 countries, including every country in the Caribbean except Cuba. The league has 7,500 community based programs globally that include kids age 4 to 12.
"As the world's largest youth sports organization, we have an obligation to help develop the game," said Stephen Keener, president and CEO of Little League International, who added the agreement allows the organization to bring resources to Cuba like players' equipment, training and improving playing fields.
"A dream come true," said Higinio Velez, Cuban Baseball Federation president.
It's a stimulus for the families, young players and their trainers to have the possibility to represent Cuba at this level, Velez added.
This is the fifth time Keener has visited Cuba. Twenty years ago, Keener attended the friendship games between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles. It was during that game, he wondered why little league wasn't in Cuba.
While on a trip to Taiwan, Keener said he met Tony Castro, son of Fidel Castro, who remains vice president of Cuba's Baseball Federation.
“Tony and I talked about how we should try to work together to establish little league in Cuba,” Keener said.
Keener sees a value of developing international friendships through children playing baseball.
In Cuba, teams from 15 provinces will compete nationally, with the winner heading to Curacao in July to compete to represent the Caribbean region and move on to the 2019 World Series on Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Little League International pays the expenses of the teams that end up advancing in the series and play in the World Series. The expenses include lodging, meals, uniforms and equipment.
On the issue of visas, Keener told journalists they have a strong relationship with the U.S. State Department and will work directly to facilitate the process.