09/01/13 - Fox News Latino - Tropical Storm Ends Face Off Between Retired Cuban Ballplayers And Exiles
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - This time it wasn't a political storm that got in
the way, it was a tropical one.
As thunder, lightning and flash flooding pounded South Florida, the first
matchup between retired Cuban baseball players and their exile counterparts
was rained out on Saturday.
The game between former members of the Industriales, the New York 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 such events.
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 communist administration of Cuban President Raul Castro and his
brother, 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 government.
None of the most successful retired exile players, such as Orlando "El
Duque" Hernandez, appeared Saturday despite being promoted in event
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 Bayamesa."
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
that 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
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
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 respite.
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. Major Leagues.
Based on reporting by the The Associated Press.
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