Baseball represents the best part of American immigration policy. Sure, most baseball players come over on non-immigrant visas but when they arrive, they become part of a team and those differences of nationality and ethnicity disappear in the fight for a playoff spot. Well, unless you happen to be a modern-day nativist like Gary Sheffield. In general, though, baseball is a powerful tool for US diplomacy and relations in our own hemisphere.
But while writing the filibuster the other day, I got to thinking about an often overlooked part of baseball diplomacy. Many of the players come from poor Caribbean or Latin American countries where people often have a hard time getting visas to come visit the US. If you’re a non superstar type of guy or even just a young guy with an opportunity to try out for a team, how do you convince a visa officer that you’re going to return to your country if things don’t pan out? Obviously this isn’t an issue for a Johan Santana or someone like that but most players are not Johan Santana.
The New York Times addressed this very issue recently but also brought up a point that hits home for any Tigers’ fan. Beyond simply making the team, what happens to players who have proven their worth and no longer have trouble getting a visa but then go out and commit some sort of crime? For instance, what happens to Miguel Cabrera after his recent DUI? Although this is Cabrera’s first DUI, it’s not his first brush with law as a result of drinking. These incidents definitely affect his eligibility and at the very least could hold up the process the next time he applies for a US visa.
No matter what happens to Cabrera, baseball consistently remains ahead of the curve in its anticipation of social change. In much the same way that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the 40’s, the flood of baseball migrants heralds an eventual shift in our thinking on immigration policy. Although Joe Autoworker from Detroit is sure that some immigrant took his job, he’s not interested in applying this same logic to Miguel Cabrera and his fellow Venezuelans playing for the Tigers. The problem is, Cabrera might have just taken care of that issue of his own accord.