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The Greene Line

The Cuban Baseball Crisis

By Jamal K. Greene, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

If Felix Savon had not already convinced you that a Cuban can throw a punch with the best of them, you must have missed Round 2 of the set-to between the Baltimore Orioles and Fidel Castro's Caribbean fiefdom.

In the fifth inning of Cuba's 12-6 ritual Bird slaughter on Monday night, an anti-Castro fan sprinted onto the field holding a sign that read, "Freedom--Strike Out Against Castro." Cuban second base umpire "Julio" Cesar Valdez took exception, to say the least.

Valdez charged, intercepted the fan in short center, lifted him over his head and body-slammed him into the grass. Anyone who has been to a goodly number of baseball games has seen this usually harmless baseball drama play itself out before.

Fan runs onto field. Fan gets wrestled to the ground by a large man in a teal T-shirt and a white hat. Fan gets dragged off the field by similarly- attired, usually even beefier men.

The other faithful add a few chuckles to their beer, the outfielders get a few minutes to congregate in center and discuss the evening's "get some" plans and the offender receives a stern warning and a slap on the wrist in the bowels of the stadium.

Of course, none of this ever gets televised. The camera shows the tarpaulin or, worse, the faces and cheap suits of the announcers, who either pretend nothing is happening or offer a moralistic diatribe about "these idiots who needlessly extend the game to unmanageable lengths."

This time was different.

Having already disabled the fan, Valdez swooped in for the kill, punching the man in the head several times before being restrained by Orioles' left fielder B.J. Surhoff.

Said Surhoff, no doubt echoing the sentiments of many in attendance, "I thought he was just going to hold him for the security people. Next thing you know, he was throwing haymakers."

Needless to say, O's owner Peter Angelos asked for it. He played with fire and, well, you know the rest.

Normally political commentary would be saved for Page 10, but Angelos, in a self-proclaimed attempt to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, has roped himself an ugly steer and pulled it onto the sports page.

The Orioles played a team that felt the need to place armed guards outside the hotel rooms of its players. The Orioles, in a stadium financed by the good people of Baltimore, U.S.A., forbade fans from chanting at the game.

It's really some "national pastime" we've got. It's no wonder Cuba won--the game was practically played in Havana.

Despite the tight security, pitching coach Rigoberto Herrera defected yesterday, and six other members of the delegation missed the team's flight to Cuba, though the official word remains that the six overslept.

If the six are players, I hope they all end up on some Major League roster and get grossly overpaid just like the rest of the world's great ballers. The Orioles are a wondrous example of how a team of millionaires can be oh so ordinary.

Who better to introduce Cubans to America than the Birds, a team with a $78 million dollar payroll who the Cuban national team, all $2,250 worth of them, can obliterate on foreign soil. In America, even the truly poor can be fabulously wealthy.

How ironic that the Cuban victory comes on the heels of a much-publicized protest by Kansas City Royal fans against the Yankees for committing the sin of playing in a lucrative market. Cuba, it seems, showed exactly how much a payroll is worth.

Unfortunately, that is about the only lesson to have come out of this series.

The U.S. has a sordid history of self-righteous paternalism, and its policy towards Cuba is no exception. Our longstanding trade embargo against our Communist neighbors to the south is a prime example of our formalized policy of starving people whose dictators we don't like. We have assumed, but not universally earned the right to be puritanical in our dealings with other nations.

But if the Orioles' gesture is one of good will, if it is meant to show us that two nations with outstanding political differences have something to learn from each other, than a game played on U.S. soil must be on American terms.

Orioles Park at Camden Yards played Cuban music over the loudspeaker between innings and served arroz con frijoles at concession stands. If this is the extent of our hospitality, then nothing, save some indigestion, has come of Angelos' experiment.

Putting players under effective house arrest for the egregious offense of being born Cuban is not acceptable. Denying free speech in a publicly financed stadium 45 miles from the nation's capital is still less so.

Similarly, beating a fan past the point of No ms is not the path to understanding.

Valdez defended his actions.

"Above all, I am Cuban...I just thought it was the right way to do it."

Protest is the trademark of a free society--Valdez could not have proven that any better.

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