Bobby Carter has made several trips to Cuba over four years, but next week's jaunt could be the most fun.
He's going with Yankee Hall-of-Famer Richard "Goose" Gossage, who's taking four cases of baseballs from the Yankee spring training camp to teach a clinic in Havana.
Carter, an executive at Biloxi's Golden Nugget Casino, hopes to eventually bring the Cuban national team to play an exhibition game at MGM Park. And like President Barack Obama this week, he's been working to develop relationships in Cuba, where baseball is by far the most popular sport.
Obama is making his first visit to Cuba this week, accompanied by CEOs of 11 U.S. companies hoping to do business with Cuba. A highlight of the trip will be today when he joins President Raul Castro for a game between the beloved national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.
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"To deal with Cuba it's all about relationships," said Carter. He's been developing contacts on his visits and said, "I think the way to do this is through baseball."
Young people in Cuba don't have access to the New York Yankees and Gossage on television, but Carter said, "You'd be surprised by what they know. The older generation -- they know who (Gossage) is," he said, and they wear Yankee baseball caps. "They're going to love him."
The last time Carter was in Cuba, he watched the Cuban national team play and met Antonio "Tony" Castro, Fidel Castro's youngest son, who serves on the Cuban baseball federation.
A report in USA Today said Antonio Castro is well aware of how baseball could be a catalyst to help repair five decades of bitterness and distrust between the U.S. and Cuban governments.
The opportunities are there for Mississippi, Carter said. Representatives from the Port of Mobile were at a Cuban trade show in December. Carter said he talked to officials with the Port of Gulfport, because once trade opens up, Mississippi could jump in and do business.
Accompanying Carter on his visit to Cuba next week will be Keith Crosby, general manager of Palace Casino in Biloxi, and Michael Diaz, a plastic surgeon from South Mississippi. Diaz will meet with Rodrigo Alvarez Cambra, renowned surgeon and Castro's physician.
Carter was instrumental in arranging a visit last year by the Cuban physician's son, artist Inti Alvarez, who met with students at D'Iberville Middle School and the Biloxi Shuckers and toured MGM Park.
Carter said the people he's met in Cuba the last four years are "warm and genuine," and although there aren't Starbucks and McDonald's yet in Cuba, "I've seen a lot of changes in that short amount of time."