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Cuba Opens Door for Athletes to Sign in U.S.

Cuba stands at attention during their national anthem prior to an exhibition baseball game against the United States team in Durham, N.C.

By Anne-Marie Garcia and Peter Orsi

Could a new wave of Cuban baseball players be headed for the major leagues without having to defect from the communist island?

Cuba announced Friday that athletes from all sports will soon be able to sign contracts with foreign leagues, a break with a decades-old policy that held pro sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.

It’s a step toward the day when the road from Havana to Yankee Stadium might mean simply hopping on a plane rather than attempting a perilous sea crossing or sneaking out of a hotel at midnight in a strange land.

But American baseball fans shouldn’t throw their Dodgers or Rockies caps in the air in celebration just yet. The Cold War-era embargo against Cuba means it may not happen anytime soon.

If it does come to pass, it could increase – astronomically, in some cases – the amount of money Cuban baseball players can earn.

Athletes’ wages are not made public in Cuba but are believed to be somewhere around the $20 a month that most other state employees earn – a tiny fraction of the millions many U.S. big leaguers make.

“It’s the dream of many athletes to test themselves in other leagues – the big leagues, if at some point my country would allow it,” said Yasmani Tomas, who is one of Cuba’s top talents, batting .345 last season with the powerhouse Havana Industriales.

Under the new policy, athletes will be eligible to play abroad as long as they fulfill their commitments at home, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. For baseball players, that means being available for international competitions as well as Cuba’s November-to-April league.

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