Comcast to air Abreu doc taped during MLB Cuban tour

Jose Abreu in Cuba (Photo: Chicago Tribune)

Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN/C) received Major League Baseball’s last minute invitation Thursday, Dec. 10 to join its historic Cuban good will tour that was leaving the following Monday, Dec. 14 for three days.

That gave CSN/C 48 hours in which to pull the production together for a visit to the island, where no MLB team has played since the Baltimore Orioles’ exhibition game in 1999. Twelve of those hours were spent filing applications for expedited visa approval by the Cuban Consulate in Washington, D.C.

The result of CSN/C’s quick action is “Going Home: Jose Abreu,” a half-hour doc about the 28-year old White Sox slugger’s return to Cuba for the first time since he defected to the US in 2012.

It will air Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 9:30 p.m. on the sports outlet.

CSN/C assembled the last-minute team of senior content producer and five time Emmy winner Ryan McGuffey, cameraman Jeff Korbitz and bi-lingual on-air reporter Siera Santos for the assignment. They arrived in Miami the morning of Monday, Dec. 14, picked up their visas and made the short flight to Havana a few hours later.

CSN/C and Tribune sports columnist David Haugh had the distinction of being were the only local media among the dozen media outlets and writers on the trip, which also marked the first anniversary of the détente between the two countries in almost 60 years. 

On the tour besides Abreu, whose readmission was a rare concession by the Cuban government that typically denounces defectors as traitors, fellow Cubans were outfielder Yasiel Puig, who also defected in 2012, shortstop Aleei Ramirez, who left Cuba in 2007 and first baseman Brayan Pena, who left Cuba as a teenager in 1999, among other MLB players.

Abreu said he was grateful for the opportunity Major League Baseball gave them to return to Cuba and represent baseball, which is one of the most important parts of life there. 

Santos conducted Abreu’s 18-minute interview in Spanish that Korbitz taped in the scenic courtyard of the Hotel Nacional, where the MLB was headquartered and held its three day charity events and  instructional clinics.

“We opted to use subtitles for the English translation, rather than a neutral voiceover, because we didn’t want to lose the emotion in Abreu’s voice over his return,” says McGuffey,

The doc includes Havana sights and sounds and the enthusiasm of Cuban fans greeting their big-league countrymen and other Major Leaguers on the trip. “There wasn’t a picture or autograph that Abreu didn’t stop for.  He represents hope to them,” McGuffey says.

CSN/C’s executive producer Sarah Lauch, who edited doc, lucked out on helming the Cuban shoot because her passport had expired.  Since it could not be renewed in the short time span to organize the trip, McGuffey got the whirlwind assignment instead.

The “Going Home: Jose Abreu” title was not meant as a series, “it just worked out that way,” McGuffey says. “We’d already finished the doc of Joe Maddon going home to Hazleton and Abreu had the same theme, so ‘Going Home’ made sense.”  Logos for the two shows, however, are completely different.

Encore airings of “Going Home: Jose Abreu” will be Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 29 at 9:30 p.m.