Storm ends retired Cuban baseball stars’ Fla. game
What a political storm couldn’t stop, a tropical one did.
Thunder, lightning and flash flooding on Saturday rained out the
first South Florida matchup between retired Cuban baseball players
from both sides of the Florida Straits.
The game between former members of the Industriales, the Yankees
of Cuba, would have been inconceivable a decade ago, due in large
part to the Miami Cuban exile community’s opposition to cultural
exchanges with the island. But the United States and Cuba have
eased travel restrictions in recent years, and the younger
generation and new immigrants in South Florida are more open to
Even so, the matchup was nearly derailed in July, when Florida
International University, which had agreed to host two games,
suddenly backed out, citing ”contractual issues.” Its decision
came shortly after resistance from a small but vocal Miami-based
group that has long opposed the administration of Communist Cuban
President Raul Castro and former President Fidel Castro. The first
of the games was also originally slated for the same day a broad
coalition of Cuban-American groups was holding a conference at
FIU’s law school to ratchet up pressure on the Cuban
None of the most successful retired exile players, such as
Orlando ”El Duque” Hernandez, appeared Saturday despite being
promoted in event publicity.
But fans and players seemed undaunted. Instead of the usual
pregame handshakes between opposing teams, many of the players –
some who had not seen each other for a decade – grabbed one another
in bear hugs. Fans and players from the U.S. covered their hearts
for both the Star Spangled Banner and the Cuban national anthem, La
Game organizer Alejandro Canton and his company Somos Cuba (“We
are Cuba”) Entertainment Group have frequently brought artists
from the island and support more cultural exchanges. He pulled off
a successful game in Tampa last week. But Miami was different.
FIU has refused to say much publicly about the cancellation, but
a letter from the school’s attorney to the American Civil Liberties
Union made clear top university officials were jittery about the
games’ potential political nature. The school also argued it had
excluded its sports venues from political gatherings, although
former President Bill Clinton gave a political speech at its
basketball arena In 2012.
Just outside the stadium gates Saturday, about two dozen, mostly
gray-haired men and women with Cuban flags gathered to protest the
game before it started. Those who came to see the game filmed the
protesters on their phones but remained jovial.
Johan Alvarez, 45, who runs a small health care company in
Miami, was among those snapping photos. Alvarez, who came to the
U.S. from Cuba more than a decade ago, called the protest ”part of
the folklore of Miami.”
Alvarez said he grew up watching the visiting players and those
who now call the U.S. home and was excited to see the matchup.
”It’s nostalgic,” he said.
Most of the hundreds of people lined up early at the Fort
Lauderdale stadium Saturday had little interest in talking
politics. Old and young alike sported the royal blue T-shirts and
hats of the Industriales as they snacked on pregame hot dogs and
guava pastries at the stadium food court.
”This is pretty cool,” said Carlos Campos, 30, who left Cuba a
decade ago. He waved away questions about the controversy. ”This
is about a game, not political arguments.”
During the brief playing time, one protester ran onto the field
and was booed by the spectators before being tackled by police and
quickly removed. Minutes after the game resumed, a crack of thunder
exploded above the stadium and rain beat down. Organizers initially
hoped to continue the game, but they eventually gave up as the
freshly spread dirt turned to mud and lighting flashed without
Baseball, the national pastime of Cuba, has long united exiles
and those still on the island, but it has also been a point of
contention. Over the years, dozens of top players have defected to
the U.S., some going on to play in World Series championships. As
recently as last month, all-star first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu
was reported to have defected with dreams of playing in the U.S.