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Fans crowded around and took turns having their picture taken with the players. Negrin and a friend scrambled to borrow a pen and paper to get Griffey’s autograph.

“I’m going to treasure this,” Negrin said. “I still have goose bumps.”

It was a scene reminiscent of last spring’s visit by pop power-couple Beyonce and Jay-Z. That trip that was harshly criticized by some in the Cuban-American exile community including several prominent politicians.

Cubans are keenly interested in U.S. baseball, in addition to their own league. Keeping abreast isn’t always easy, but islanders eagerly pass around videos on thumb drives, and information travels by word of mouth.

Last year Cuban state television began showing MLB games for the first time in decades, though always on tape delay and not games featuring Cuban defectors.

Larkin said he believes sporting exchanges can help bridge the gap between people separated by more than five decades of political ill will.

“The whole world has become smaller and more connected through relationships,” Larkin said. “And I really truly believe that sports is one of those bridges than can build really strong bonds.”


Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed to this report.