My baseball life experience is for the most part limited to fanhood. For that reason, I’m not totally familiar with some of the more refined aspects of the game. One of the eccentricities of baseball that has always intrigued me are these unwritten rules that each player seems to follow. Some of these rules are true for many players, but others are more specific to an individual. These routines vary in commonality from pedestrian habits to full on weird customs that require any sensible individual to question the sanity of the player as they do what needs to be done. These are the customs I want to learn about. My Wonder for the weird makes me want to dive head first into these bizarre tendencies and dissect them vigor in hopes of explaining them or (more likely) bring some of the stranger ones to the limelight and give them the attention they so fully deserve. Just remember that when you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.
My love affair with baseball has been unconventional to say the least. I didn’t grow up playing the game like all my friends; I don’t have any childhood memories at my hometown ballpark; and when I played catch in the backyard with my dad, it was with a football. I didn’t get my first glove until I was twelve and even then, it was a Wal-Mart special that I never took the time to properly wear in. To be honest I never had any real desire to play the game of baseball and I doubt that I was alone in my initial disregard for the game. How then does baseball transcend individual participation, preach its gospel, and extend its discipleship to a lost soul like me? The answer: Hollywood baby.
“Normal relations, never. We should never forget what has happened to the people in Cuba for forty years. All baseball cares about is getting players out of Cuba. It doesn’t care about the suffering, just money.”
The great Cuban player Luis Tiant said this around 1999 when the Orioles went to the island nation. He was not pleased with Cuban government or the MLB opening up this olive branch for possible baseball talent in return.
It had been years since he made hitters whiff in Cleveland and Boston with his unconventional, but effective, right-handed style. (See theYouTube video below).
But on March 22, Tiant was standing on the mound throwing out the first pitch for an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.
Tiant talked to Fox Sports’ JP Morosi about the internal challenge it was to come back to his homeland. He talked about the pain and suffering of the people of Cuba. He talked about his pain as he watched from the United States. He couldn’t help his friends. He couldn’t help family members for all those years.
Still Tiant realized what this moment would mean regardless of the past.
“This is history,” he told Morosi in the article. “You have to do that. This is special.”
This game was all a part of President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba to meet with Raul Castro about opening up relations with the communist country. For decades, the United States has isolated our 90-mile neighbor to the southeast.
Now the United States is finally showing some economic and political hospitality.
But handshaking and setting up a baseball game can’t be the only thing done by the United States or Major League Baseball.
Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald and ESPN had a heart rendering column talking about will this get better for people in Cuba. LeBatard discusses the blood spilled by the Castro regime during this 57-year reign. (Check out the link, it really is an insightful read.)
I think that’s the singular question that we should worry about before developing, growing and eventually taking all the Cuban talent over to our shores.
Will we make life better for the Cuban people?
Major League Baseball has a responsibility to leave a lasting footprint like they did in the Dominican Republic. Build schools and facilities for 13, 14 and 15-year-old boys on the island and get them started in the right direction.
Regardless of what happens, the American capitalist wheels are in motion now. Scouts will come in and recruit young players. The Havana coast will fill up with cruise ships. The antique cars will be turned in for the latest Ford and Chevy models.
Major League Baseball has been to Cuba several times since President Obama’s announcement last summer that relations between the two countries would resume. They’ve sent their stars for the photo-ops with kids. They’ve done community work and said all the right things and this game against the Cuban National Team was a nice step.
All that is ideal for Cuba, but will they have freedom. Will they have the ability to elect officials and determine who will make their political decisions?
Or will be more of the same as Tiant said 16 years ago. Will they not care about the suffering and only about the money?
I think we’ve seen the last of the Livan and Orlando Hernandez’s and Yasiel Puig’s risking their lives just for a chance for a better life and to play a game.
Can baseball make life better for the Cuban people? That’s what we have to see happen.