The Miami Herald
March 29, 1999
Divided loyalties: Game stirs the emotions of Miami's exiles

             By ANA ACLE
             Herald Staff Writer

             The crack of the bat and the singing of national anthems immediately struck the heart
             of Miami's Cubans who reacted with mixed emotions as they watched their homeland
             brothers play baseball against those of their adopted country.

             Sunday's game between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuba's all-stars underscored
             divided loyalties. Cuban Americans in Miami spoke of family left behind, the hardball
             politics of Fidel Castro and the beloved sport of baseball.

             ''It's touching to see the stadium where I used to pitch, but it gives me great sadness
              to see the baseball commissioner and Orioles owner sitting next to Castro, knowing
              that the population is oppressed, and taking money to spend down there so that
              Castro's communist regime continues,'' Evelio Hernandez said.

             Hernandez, who coaches youths in Miami for a Tamiami league, played baseball
             for the Almendares and Havana leagues in Cuba and for the Washington Senators
             in 1956 and 1957. In fact, Connie Marrero who threw the first pitch at the Havana
             game is a former coach.

             ''It's a tale to say that today's Cuban baseball team is better than ever,'' Hernandez
             said. ''Cuba has always had good players. If it were not for the fact that they are
             not allowed to leave the country, Major League Baseball would be filled with
             Cuban players just as it is filled with Puerto Rican and Dominican players.''

             Rooting for Cuba's players, Deborah Cobas could not tear herself away from the
             television while waitressing at Miami's Latin American Restaurant. She dismissed
             the whole controversy.

             ''I believe the game is just a game and it has nothing to do with politics,'' Cobas

             For others, it had everything to do with politics. Aramis Nieto-Goetzmann, who
             watched several sports games on various television sets in Hooligan's Pub in
             Kendall, quickly pointed out the differences in American foreign policy.

             ''If we're going to send [baseball teams] there, let's send them to Kosovo and
             North Korea. There's no need to drop a bomb,'' Nieto-Goetzmann said.

             His friend, Nidia Labrada, refused to watch. Referring to the American national
             anthem being played in Havana, Labrada said: ''How can [Castro] be such a

             U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said the game's true objective is to pave
             the way for a Clinton-Castro relationship coming at a bad time, right after a recent
             crackdown on dissidents in Cuba.

             Diaz-Balart also criticized the fact that the Cuban public could not see the game
             since it was by invitation only. ''This is not a people-to-people exchange. It's a
             Clinton-to-Castro exchange,'' Diaz-Balart said in a phone interview.

             Ray Echevarria caught a glimpse of the game at Sergio's restaurant. ''I'm a sports
             fan, I like the game itself,'' he said. ''However, I think it sucks that an American
             team goes over there when there's an embargo.''

             Which team did he want to win? ''None. I think they're both losers.''


                               Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald