As we watch major league teams play the first round of exhibition games, we remember another spring in pre-Castro Havana.
Back in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers, now in Los Angeles, went to Havana for spring training. It created a lot of excitement in the island, to say the least, as Irv Goldfarb wrote in The Society for American Baseball Research:
The Dodgers were not totally unfamiliar with Cuba, having previously used Havana’s La Tropical Stadium as their spring training site for the 1941 and ’42 seasons, before Rickey arrived from St. Louis. Wartime travel restrictions, however, ended that experiment. And as early as 1943, Rickey had shown interest in having heralded Cuban Leaguer Silvio Garcia become the first player to test major league baseball’s color barrier.
Of course, Cuba was already familiar with professional baseball, from the Cubans who played in the US and the black stars, like Satchel Paige, who had played in the island.
The Dodgers’ visit brings up another point or the island’s strong economy. The Dodgers had many options for spring training including their site in Florida. They spent that winter in Cuba because the economy could support a major league team even during the spring training period.