Cuba Gets Surprise Visit from Ken Griffey Jr. & Barry Larkin

February 9, 2014 | Print Print |

by Adrián Romero  (Café Fuerte)

Barry Larkin (l) and Ken Griffey Jr. in Havana.

Barry Larkin (l) and Ken Griffey Jr. in Havana.  Photo: Raul Popo/cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, two former stars of Major League Baseball, surprisingly landed Saturday in Havana and toured the city to the joy of Cuban fans.

The visitors toured areas of historic Old Havana and were honored in the city’s Central Park, where they signed autographs and caused a rage among fans that the all-stars had never imagined.

The makeshift reception in Central Park was recorded by photographer Raul Pupo for Cubadebate.cu.

Griffey Jr, 44, and Larkin, 50, arrived Saturday to explore baseball on the island. They will visit training areas, donate sports equipment and expect to hold meetings with officials from the Cuban Baseball Federation, said a member of their group.

The trip was organized by Educational Travel Alliance, an organization that promotes people to people contacts, authorized by the administration of Barack Obama since 2011. The group also includes a former star women’s softball player from the United States.

Fidel Castro’s son Antonio has spoken in favor of establishing normal relations with MLB.

Approaching the Major Leagues

On Monday the former stars are scheduled to attend a reception at the residence of the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, John Caulfield, an enthusiastic promoter of baseball and who has previously hosted meetings with Cuban and American players visiting the island.

Larkin and Griffey Jr.  will remain in Cuba until next Thursday.

The visit comes at a time when expectations are growing on the inclusion of Cuban players in professional leagues. Antonio Castro, son of Fidel Castro and Vice President of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), has pronounced in favor of establishing relations with the big leagues to normalize the integration of players from the island to the best baseball in the world.

An interview with Antonio Castro will be posted on February 17 in ESPN magazine, in an issue devoted to Cuban baseball and with Yasiel Puig on the cover. Puig, who escaped from the island in 2012 is now a star of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a US $ 42 million contract.

In a conversation with reporter Paula Lavigne, held last September in Havana, Castro said he favors allowing Cuban players who now play in the big leagues to also do so with the national team in the near future.

A meeting of Larkin and Griffey Jr. with Antonio Castro is considered a possibility during their stay in the Cuban capital.

Coverage in the Cuban Media

Griffey (white T-shirt) and Larkin were surprized to see they had so many fans in Cuba.

Griffey (white T-shirt) and Larkin were surprized to see they had so many enthusiastic fans in Cuba.  Photo: Raul Popo/cubadebate.cu

So far the official Cuban press has not reported the visit, except the Cubadebate website [which cannot be seen by the vast majority of the population] that curiously ran this Sunday a “sports commentary” by a familiar official press signature, Enrique Ubieta, stating that “the return of Cuba to professional scenes is not a victory, but instead a momentary defeat.”

Griffey Jr. played 22 seasons in the majors. His numbers recorded a career batting average of .284, with 2,781 hits, 630 homers and 1,836 RBIs. He was an exceptional outfielder and if that stats aren’t even more impressive it was because of injuries. He retired in 2010, and nobody doubts he will be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Larkin is already a member of the Hall of Fame since 2012, after playing 18 seasons in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds (1986-2004). He was on the Big Red Machine that won the 1990 World Series. He coincided with Griffey Jr. on the Reds in the seasons from 2000 to 2004, and the two maintain a solid friendship.

The spectacular Reds shortstop retired with a .295 batting average, 2,340 hits, 198 homers and 960 RBIs.

Last year, Larkin was the manager of Brazil’s team in the Third World Baseball Classic in Taiwan and Japan. On that occasion Larkin spoke with the director of the Cuban team, Victor Mesa, and expressed his willingness to visit the island.


What's your opinion?

  • ronbobel777

    Need to allow intergration of Cuban players into major league baseball allowing them to earn their market value. Also need to end the embargo and alllow travel and trade without restriction.

    • Moses Patterson

      Need? Who NEEDS this? Are you saying that MLB needs Cuban players or it would be good for more Cuban players if they could play in the Majors without having to ‘escape’ from Cuba. Does the US NEED to lift the embargo? Will it help to end the war in Afghanistan sooner? Bring Iran closer to negotiating a nuclear agreement? Will it lower US debt or significantly lower the unemployment rate? Or does lifting the embargo help put hard currency in the Castros treasury to help pay for more Castro thugs for more repudiation rallies? There are already nearly 3 million tourists each year from Canada and Europe visiting Cuba already. Would adding an estimated 1 million more tourists bring freedoms to Cuba that the first 3 million haven’t brought? How exactly do you trade with a country that is poor and does not pay their debts. Would you lend the Castros your money? Ask Mexico and Russia how that worked out for them. Saying the US “needs” to do any of these things is groundless.

      • limonar

        You are right, Mr Patterson, lets keep the embargo.

      • ronbobel777

        We have free travel and trade with China and Vietnam and this has benefited the people of those countries as well as the US. Cuba is gradually liberalizing and allowing more private enterprise. The embargo of more than 50 years has failed and it is time to join the rest of the civilized world in allowing unrestricted travel and trade with Cuba. Cuba doesnt wish to have massage parlors, strip clubs and brothels and we should respect that. Cuban players in the US should be allowed to send any amount of money they wish back to Cuba for investment and assistance of family members. They are not in danger of being kidnapped as are the Venezuelans. We should also end the designation of Cuba as a terrorist country.

      • cuba1989

        Why can i smell certain hate in your words against cuba? Don’t you think that democracy is also respect different cultures and ways of thinking?

        • Moses Patterson

          I love Cuba. I dislike the Castros. At least a million Cuban exiles feel exactly the way I do. What you smell is cheap deodorant. One can respect and even admire other cultures and at the same time abhor the lack of basic human rights like freedom of speech, assembly and to bring redress against your government. None of these exists in Cuba. How does that smell to you?

    • Griffin

      I would argue that Cuban ballplayers are already earning a fair market value:

      Aroldis Chapman has a contract for $30.5 million.

      Yunel Escobar: $10 million

      Yasiel Puig: $42 million

      Yoenis Cespedes: $36 million

      Ironically, it is the Cuban regime who want to tax them of most of their earnings.

  • John Goodrich

    Allowing these communist baseball players to go back and forth between Cuba
    and the U.S. would allow them to serve as communist propagandists .
    They are a threat to our national security just as every man, woman and child in Cuba is .
    That’s why we need to uphold the embargo .
    If we don’t, They’ll be a commmisar in everyone’s U.S. Main Street neighborhood spying on everyone , reading their E-mails and stuff like that that they only do in communist dictatorships .
    Let one of these fascist commie ball players in and soon they’ll have all us red-blooded Americans by the balls
    We have to admit that the embargo isn’t working and can’t work and THEN…..
    nuke those 11 million stubborn S.O.B.s to save them from communism.
    It’s the only moral thing to do.

    • Roy

      Outstanding tongue in cheek, John!

      • Griffin

        That’s John’s tongue in Raul’s cheek, to be sure. Kissing totalitarian ass is his passion.

    • Arthur Ferenheit

      I love the sarcasm in your comment…just one word: BRILLIANT!

      • Griffin

        Moronic, is more accurate.

        John thinks he understands the issues as seen by anti-Castroists, but his mocking post only reflects his ignorance and ideological blindness. Does he really think anybody in the USA want to nuke Cuba?

        There are already dozens of Cuban ballplayers in the US MLB, doing very well and none of them are promoting Communism.

        • Moses Patterson

          What’s really scary is that there are the commenters who think he’s funny. Aaaargh! There are more of them out there!

        • ronbobel777

          anyone who wants to nuke cuba is an idiot.

    • ronbobel777

      You sound like those who say they had to bomb the vilage out of existence to save it. There are thousands of Chinese students in american universities and we havent seen one act of sabotage. Wake up to the new century. The only acts of terrorism have been the Cuban groups in Miami who have bombed hotels in Havana. They should be all send to prison. You and the tea party will never take over our country.
      T

    • http://www.my-mctelecom.com/ Michael Carvajal

      You are a very special Cain of stupid aren’t you ?
      How is that “They are a threat to our national security just as every man, woman and child in Cuba is “, where you get this moronic idea ?