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President Obama: MLB exhibition in Cuba 'something extraordinary'

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Why Obama wants to change the rules for Cuban-born players (1:35)

Barack Obama explains why changing the rules for Cuban baseball players who want to come to America is important to him. (1:35)

Today I'm taking Michelle and our girls out to a ballgame. That's something Americans do all the time, but this game is something extraordinary.

It's the first exhibition game between a major league team -- the Tampa Bay Rays -- and the Cuban national team in 17 years. It's only the second time an MLB team has visited Cuba since 1959. And most importantly, it's a symbol of the bonds between Americans and Cubans despite decades of isolation -- a small step that shows that our nations can begin to move beyond the divisions of the past and look toward a future of greater connections and cooperation between our countries.

One of the things we share is our national pastimes -- la pelota. As the quote from "Field of Dreams" goes, "the one constant through all the years ... has been baseball." That's as true in America as it is in Cuba. Whether it's the middle of an Iowa cornfield or the neighborhoods of Havana, our landscapes are dotted with baseball diamonds. Our kids grow up learning to run the bases and count balls and strikes. And many of our greatest ballplayers have taken the field together.

Since 1959, about 100 players from Cuba have played for MLB clubs. Four Cuban-born players are enshrined in Cooperstown, including Cincinnati Reds great Tony Perez. And just looking at one team -- say, my Chicago White Sox -- you can see Cuba's imprint through the generations. One of the White Sox's all-time greats, the late Minnie Minoso, was born near Havana. Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez helped bring a World Series trophy to the South Side back in 2005. And one of our best players today -- and one of the game's best sluggers -- also comes from Cuba: first baseman Jose Abreu.

"That's what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we've broken -- as people and as nations -- and looking toward a better future."

President Barack Obama

Baseball in Cuba has played a part in America's broader history as well. In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers and their farm club, including Jackie Robinson, spent spring training in Havana. Before he broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, Jackie took the field at the famed Estadio Latinoamericano for exhibitions against both American and Cuban teams. It's the same stadium where we'll watch today's game. And it will be an honor to watch with Jackie's wife, Rachel, and their daughter, Sharon, who are here as part of our delegation.

That's what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we've broken -- as people and as nations -- and looking toward a better future. Because while I will not ignore the important differences between our governments, I came to Cuba to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

They're the reason I cast off the failed, Cold War-era policy that left so many Cubans in conflict, exile and poverty in favor of a new course. They're why our governments are now cooperating on health and education initiatives. They're why we're helping families connect by restoring direct commercial flights and mail service. And they're why we're expanding commercial ties and increasing the capacity of Americans to travel to do business in Cuba.

These steps, and my visit here this week, are just small steps in a long road ahead. But I believe the American people and the Cuban people can make this journey as friends, as family and, yes, as baseball fans. ¡Pleibol!