2013 was the 50th Anniversary of the Industriales from the Cuban Baseball National Series League, representing the country’s capital of Havana. Within that span of time, Industriales have won 12 Serie National Championships, an event held every February in Cuba. They are considered the New York Yankees of the island. Their blue uniforms are as iconic as the pinstripes in the Bronx. “Somos Cuba Entertainment Group” organized a reunion to celebrate the 50 years of winning baseball history.
A group of invited Industriales Legends traveled from their home in Cuba to Miami, Florida; arriving on Monday August 12, 2013. They were reunited with old friends and relatives, including ex-patriots who also played for the Industriales. They made television appearances. In addition, they also took part in a guided tour of Little Havana’s Marlins Park and paid their respects to the Virgin of Charity in the Coconut Grove Shrine. Also, on the itinerary was a meeting with LA Dodger Yaseil Puig who was in town to play the Miami Marlins.
Cuban Legend Lázaro Vargas, also took the short flight to Miami. But he was anxious to get back to his team. He was once again selected as the Manager for the current Industriales team in Cuba. He would return to lead them into the new Fall Season. BBC News reported that, once in his prime, Laura Vargas refused a $10M offer to leave Cuba for the U.S. Also, on hand, was Enrique Díaz, an ageless Cuban baseball player that played in the Cuban League for more than 25 years. Although he never played for the Cuban national team, He was the all time hits leader in the Cuban League.
Decisions are life changing for a Cuban ball player; some have defected to play Major League Baseball and others have stayed in Cuba to excel at international competition. Since the Revolution, players have defected to the U.S. for an opportunity to play professionally, with some 108 reaching their goal to play Major League Baseball. In the 2014 All-Star Game, there were 5 Cuban born ball players on the roster; Yoenis Cespedes (Boston Red Sox), Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Yaseil Puig (LA Dodgers), and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds). Many others have followed and have become highly touted players.
Florida International University (FIU) was originally set to host a Legend’s game between the visiting invitees and the former Industriales who now reside in the U.S. They formed a squad called the “Miami All Stars.” On that team was Chicago White Sox and 2005 World Series Champion Jose Contreras. Within the pompous circumstances, NBC Miami reported that FIU caved in to pressure from a local exile group. With anticipated hostility at the park, the school backed out of the deal, due to another “contractual situation.” The political group in the Cuban-American community of South Florida demanded to not sponsor anything involving the Cuban Government.
Without a baseball field, no one was sure where they would play the exhibition games. Instead, they played a couple games here on the field of Alonzo High School in Tampa. Cuban born Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez once crafted his pitching skills here, winning the 6A State Baseball Championship twice. He debuted in April of 2013 with the Miami Marlins. Unlike other Cuban born players in MLB. Jose Fernandez came to the U.S. at a young age and learned the game of baseball under the instruction of Orlando Chinea, a legendary Cuban coach living in Florida. Jose Fernandez was a rising star but tragically lost his life, at the age of 24, in a boating accident in September of 2016.
“Somos Cuba Entertainment Group” also managed to organize a game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on short notice. Ironically, that was where the New York Yankees once held their spring training between 1962 and 1995. Baseball succeeds when politics and religion fail to bring people together.