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Marlins' Jose Fernandez hopes MLB in Cuba is the beginning of change

MLB returned to Cuba with the Rays as ambassadors. Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez discussed his thoughts.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This week marked not only the return of a U.S. president to Cuba, but also the return of Major League Baseball.

On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays became the first MLB team to play a game in Cuba since 1999.  The journey into still-communist Cuba has been heavily discussed in Miami's large Cuban population. Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez is among that group. The 23-year-old ace defected from the island in 2008 to pursue his baseball dream in the United States.

Fernandez addressed his thoughts on the situation in an interview with the Miami Herald.

"For the people that live over there I think it's gonna be great," said Fernandez during the Herald interview. "If I would've been living there I think I would go watch the game because I would be in shock."

But Fernandez was clear that the things in Cuba are not perfect.

"A lot of things have to change," said Fernandez. " I would get into it but we'd be here all day and I have to pitch."

Lack of change is what forced Jose Fernandez and his family from the island. The successful journey across 90 miles of treacherous Caribbean waters came in Fernandez's third attempt. The then 15-year-old Fernandez had already served jail time in Cuba after failed attempts to flee.

Once in the United States, Fernandez and his family made their way to Tampa, where Fernandez played his high school ball. The Marlins drafted him out of high school in 2011. The young Cuban went from political prisoner to professional athlete in less than five years. Today, Fernandez is the undisputed ace in the most heavily Cuban-influenced city in America.

The relationship between the United States and Cuba has improved, but there are still those on the island who are unhappy with the regime.

After the Rays' 4-1 victory over the Cuban national team, ESPN's Bob Ley's post-game report on the streets of Havana was interrupted by a political protester. The young man was shouting in Spanish at the camera and threw some political pamphlets in the air before Cuban police got to him. As the officers dragged the protester out of frame he could be heard yelling: "Abajao a los Castros", "down with the Castros."