Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. - http://www.cubafreepress.org

May 4, 1999.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO HAPPEN WOULD BE TO EASE TENSIONS AROUND THE EDGES By Iván García, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - A carefully selected Cuban team crushed the Baltimore Orioles. The Cubans won 12 to 6. But more important than that victory could be an easing of tensions outside the baseball field and around the fringes. That's the message which the teams' encounters left.

Omar Linares, 31, Cuba's baseball super star, watched through one of the airplane windows as the team was arriving at the port city of Baltimore. He found it impossible to realize that a relatively few hours later, at 7:38 p.m. on May 3, in the Camden Yard stadium he would hear the voice saying, "Play ball!" He didn't know he would play a perfect game that night, hitting four times out of four times at bat and one hit being a homer. And he did it in front of 48,000 spectators, including 500 business leaders and 51 U.S. Congress members.

Nobody could expect Linares to do better. He is the best Cuban baseball player. And if he had not rejected offers of millions he could have become a giant in Major League baseball. Baltimore received him and a huge delegation of more than 300 Cubans with their arms open and good intentions.

Besides the players, there was a great variety of fans from Cuba: Forty retired players, a baseball team of children, Olympic champions such as the legendary boxer, Teófilo Stevenson, and the prince of the broad jump, Javier Sotomayor. Also among the visitors was a tailor, a sugarcane cutter and the director of the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana.

None of them were available to the U.S. media. According to the Washington Post daily, "The Cuban delegation was virtually kidnapped and held in a wing of the Sheraton hotel." The Cubans held only two press conferences. One of them starred Cuban Sports Minister Humberto Rodríguez just before their departure and the other was by the team "manager," Alfonso Urquiola and various players right after the game. At both meetings, U.S. journalists ask why the spectacular Cuban hurler Germán Mesa had not played. The same response was given by both Rodriguez and Urquiola: "Mesa was not in good shape."

The Baltimore fans had to remain wishing they could watch Germán pitch. But they did get a chance to see a Cuban team well prepared which made a big comeback after having been defeated in the preceding match. The Cubans did not pause until they humiliated the Orioles with 12 runs out of 17 hits - including two triples by the substitute for Germán Mesa, Danel Castro. Designated hitter Andy Morales hit a home run.

The left-handed Cuban pitcher, José Ariel Contreras, was not able to be as effective as he had been in the Havana game with the Orioles on March 28. He was not able to dominate the strike zone at Camden Yard and had to withstand an interruption of 56 minutes because of rain. So he lost his usual control. In the first inning, the Orioles got two runs and seemed to have the game sewed up. But the Cubans' relief pitcher, right-hander Norge Luis Vera, put the Cuban team in control. He permitted no hits for six innings. Only in the ninth inning, when the game was virtually decided, did he falter and permit three runs.

For its part, the Cuban batters overwhelmed whichever pitcher the Orioles used. The Cubans had no pity for one of the best teams in the Major Leagues. To be sure the Orioles don't have a happy status in the current season but they did not expect to be beaten so handily.

HOT HAPPENINGS

There also was another confrontation at Camden Yard. That was between the critics and the backers of Fidel Castro in the United States. In the fifth inning, five Cuban exiles jumped onto the playing field carrying signs attacking the Castro regime. The last of the five was neutralized by a Cuban umpire, Luis César Valdés. In a manner of speaking, this symbolized the baseball diplomacy between Cuba and the United States.

Some 1,500 opponents of Castro, inside and outside the stadium, showed their discontent with the man they consider "an implacable dictator." To show an image of tolerance, Castro invited Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, the head of a Cuban exile group called Cuban Change, to attend the game. Menoyo - who spent 22 years in a Cuban jail - declared that Castro's gesture was a positive event during this time of tensions and strong repression against dissidents in Cuba.

Menoyo in recent years has represented a moderate U.S. current in favor of a U.S. dialogue with the Cuban government, but he has been unable to win many concessions from Castro since he left prison and came to the United States. Cuba repeatedly has refused to give Menoyo permission to open an office for his political party in Havana.

Nevertheless, the Castro government has allowed Menoyo to visit his second fatherland any time that he wishes since his release from prison. Menoyo also is not attacked verbally as are other opponents of the Cuban government. Menoyo was born in Spain.

To prevent an incident between pro- and anti-Castro people, the Baltimore police took strong measures on behalf of the security of the Cuban delagation. The U.S. authorities rejected a petition by a group of exiles to fly a plane over the ball stadium and to drop leaflets critical of the island regime. The U.S. as well as the Cuban authorities wanted peace and tranquility. They got their wishes.

Hundreds of opponents of Fidel Castro staged a demonstration during the game in front of the bust of Jose Marti, who paradoxically is a much-cited apostle by both groups. The bust stands in a Baltimore park. The most that was accomplished there was the voicing of diatribes. But the most important result of the game for the future was that it demonstrated that the walls of intolerance that have survived the end of the Cold War can be scaled.

With these two baseball games, it may not be possible to initiate the disappearance of the long dispute between the United States and Cuba. But at least there was a try.

Iván García, Cuba Free Press


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