Cubans prepare to play ball with U.S. team
March 26, 1999
HAVANA (CNN) -- Forget the embargo or the Bay of Pigs. For one memorable weekend, Cuba and the United States will give up a political grudge match for a more benevolent contest.
The Baltimore Orioles fly into Havana on Saturday night for a goodwill game against a Cuban all-star squad the next day.
They will become the first U.S. Major League team to play all-stars of the communist-run Caribbean island here since the Pittsburgh Pirates took the field in 1953.
"These events ... seem to want to show ... what it can mean for men and peoples to take the route of cooperation and understanding," commented Cuba's state news agency, Prensa Latina.
It may be just a game, but when the topic is baseball, emotions run high among Cubans.
"People spend the whole day arguing about baseball. In Cuba, we don't say to talk about baseball, we say to argue about baseball," explains Roberto Gonzalez- Echevarria, a Cuban-born professor in the United States.
Such lively debates take place daily around Havana in places like the Hot Corner, where the conversation lately has turned to whether the Cubans can beat the Orioles. Close by is the Estadio Latinamericano, the 50,000-seat stadium where the game will take place.
Setting the stage for the main event, Little League players from the United States have joined Cuban counterparts in diplomatic displays on the diamond this week.
"It's great out here," said 11-year-old Clarence Collier, who hit the field within hours of his arrival. "The kids who play here are really challenging."
Collier is among a lucky few youngsters from the United States who will be able to see the game.
After a three-year effort, the Baltimore team won U.S. State Department permission in January to play the Cubans. The Orioles insist the exhibition match here -- and a rematch slated for Baltimore in May -- are purely sporting events.
Yet as often happens in U.S.-Cuban affairs, politics have taken a role.
Conservative Cuban exile groups in Florida have protested the match, calling it a poorly timed public relations gift to Castro, who has taken firm measures recently against dissidents opposed to his one-party system.
One Miami-based Orioles player pulled out of the game, saying he does not want to offend his neighbors.
Inside Cuba, fans are disgruntled for other reasons. Tickets are by invitation only. One peso, or five cents, gets fans in the gates for other games.
Government officials say they will distribute the bulk of tickets to Cuban organizations affiliated with the ruling Communist Party.
Some 600 international and local journalists will also attend, as well as heads of diplomatic missions in Havana.
"Why don't they hand the tickets out here on the streets, where we love baseball, instead of to people who don't love the sport like we do?" shouted one irate fan in Havana's Central Park.
The Cuban government has given a low-profile to the event, although Castro, 72, a talented baseball player in his youth, is thought certain to attend the game.
The weekend's high-profile sporting event comes during an ebb in already low relations between the two countries. Since January they have clashed on issues that include U.S. changes to the economic embargo against Cuba, unpaid bills from U.S. phone companies in Cuba, and Cuba's judicial crackdown on dissidents.
Correspondent John Zarella and Reuters contributed to this report.
Upcoming Orioles game in Cuba drawing anti-Castro protests
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.