The Miami Herald
March 29, 1999
Major-league players capture historic win
Joy, grumbling over game in Havana

             By RICK JERVIS and JORDAN LEVIN
             Herald Staff Writers

             HAVANA -- The first wave of the first game between American big-leaguers
             and Cuban ballplayers in more than 40 years swelled at 1 p.m. Sunday in the
             left-field bleachers of Latinoamericano Stadium, rolled counterclockwise behind
             home plate, and moved across the right-field stands with such force that even the
             blue-uniformed policemen had to raise their hands.

             It would be 12 more minutes before the first pitch was launched in the historic
             match between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles. But no one
             would wait.

             The 50,000-seat stadium was already rocking with singing, cheering, flag-waving

             ''This has been discussed here for years -- are the Cubans good enough to play
             Americans?'' said Delis Rojas Lopez, a 27-year-old engineer who received an
             invitation from the government to attend the game. ''Now . . . we could finally see.''

             The game was tight, with the Orioles squeaking by, 3-2, in the 11th inning. Not
             that it mattered.

             As early as 10 a.m., fans streamed down Calle 20 de Mayo on their way to the
             first baseball game involving U.S. major-leaguers in four decades. The Havana
             locals came pumped for baseball, their blood still hot from a close victory
             Saturday night for their Industriales, the local amateur team, in Game 2 of the
             national championship series against Santiago.

            Sunday's game was criticized for the Cuban government's decision to hand out
            invitations to worker unions instead of opening the game to the public.

            But in the small park on the north side of the stadium, scalpers sold tickets for $2
            for bleacher seats, $5 for infield seating.

             ''This is capitalism creeping in, just like China,'' said Tony Walker, a real estate
             developer from Southern California who came to Havana for the game. ''I've been
             coming here 15 years. There's never been anything like this.''

             But not everyone was pleased with the setup.

             Disappointed fan

             Reynaldo Biset, a 40-year-old construction worker from Havana, wanted to go to
             the game but didn't receive an invitation. With the scalping prices too high, he
             watched the game on a black-and-white TV set at a small bar on Hospital Street,
             near Havana's Chinatown.

             ''Five dollars is what I earn in a month,'' Biset said. ''What am I supposed to do?
             Go to the game and not eat?

             ''Some of the people inside don't even understand baseball,'' he said. ''It's not fair.
             They should give everyone a chance to go.''

             At the stadium, those who could attend came to the game waving blanket-size
             Cuban flags and carrying conga drums. They had cigars stuffed in their shirt
             pockets and wore New York Yankees baseball caps. There were a lot of
             Yankees caps.

             Noticeably missing were the rum and Cristal beer usually taken to Cuban
             ballgames. No alcohol was allowed in the stadium Sunday.

             Castro sees the game

             President Fidel Castro arrived about 1 p.m. in a caravan of Mercedes-Benzes and
             walked out to the field soon afterward to boisterous applause. Later, he watched
             the game from behind home plate, flanked on either side by Baltimore Mayor Kurt
             Schmoke and Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

             Also present in the stands: U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jack Reed
             of Rhode Island.

             ''It's interesting that this all came together haphazardly but purposely,'' said singer
             Jimmy Buffett, who attended the game since he was in town for the Music Bridges
             concert Sunday night.

             By the seventh inning, the fans erupted into morewaves, shouting ''Eso es! Eso
             es!'' (That's it!)

             The energy wowed 13-year-old Kevin Kistler, of Baltimore's St. Ignatius Loyola
            Academy, who was brought to the game with 78 other Little League and inner-city
            baseball and basketball players.

             During the game, Kevin gave a T-shirt to a Cuban boy. He said it was the second
             one he had given away.

             ''The people are really nice here,'' he said. ''I don't think the government gives them
             what they deserve.''


                               Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald