While successful people-to-people diplomacy always requires hard work and creativity, a little star power never hurts.  So when recently-retired Major League Baseball great Ken Griffey, Jr. joined 2004 Olympic softball gold medalist Natasha Watley to serve as State Department sports envoys for “Diamond Diplomacy” activities in Mexico City from February 28 to March 4, the program was destined to sparkle.

Despite Cuba’s track record of culling baseball talent, players on the island still make about as much money as an average construction worker. So it’s not surprising that one of their best players, 26-year-old center fielder Rusney Castillo, has defected from his home country in the hopes of signing with a Major League team in the U.S. This comes just months after Cuba’s recent change in policy allowing its players to sign with foreign leagues. But with the U.S.

Balls and strikes, not politics, ruled the day Wednesday at a baseball diamond in Havana, as last year’s college championship team from the University of Tampa played an exhibition game against a Cuban youth squad. The visitors scraped out a hard-fought 2-1 win, but the encounter was more about bridging the vast gulf between these neighboring nations that disagree on just about everything except their shared love of the game.

The Little League World Series is an international baseball tournament created in 1947 for children between the ages of 11 and 13. In its current iteration, the Little League World Series is a 16-team tournament, divided into an international bracket and a U.S. bracket, with the final played in South Williamsport, PA, between the champions of the two brackets. The tournament represents 8 different regions of the U.S., and a regional winner from: Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Japan, Latin America and Mexico.

The Cuban Government’s anouncemnt thru GRANMA (the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party) says that athletes will be able to sign contracts abroad as long as they “fulfill their obligations at home.” Said obligations were characterized thusly: ”It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year.” This suggests that Cuban athletes will still be required to play for the national team and tournaments.

It's among the few things that many Cubans and Americans can agree on: Baseball should return to the Olympics. Antonio Castro, son of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is in Argentina to argue before the International Olympic Committee that baseball — now in partnership with softball — should be returned to the Olympic games in 2020.

The speakers and panelists at the event, held June 22 at the National Assembly Building in the South Korean capital, featured former Olympic athletes, noted scholars and other dignitaries, and it was attended by delegations from Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo — the latter led by convivial Masato Mizuno, the CEO of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Bid Committee. The speakers were asked to cite examples of how sports improves relations between two countries, and so when my turn came I told them the story of pitcher Hideo Nomo — which goes as follows, for those not familiar with the tale.

If deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez polarised the nation with his policies and political rhetoric, his love of sport helped bring people together, even if "baseball diplomacy" couldn't fix relations with the US. In a country famous for beer, beauty pageants and baseball, the game transcends a Saturday afternoon pastime, reaching its way into diplomacy and politics.