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
match between the Cuban national team and the Baltimore Orioles. But no one
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
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.
that it mattered.
As early as 10 a.m., fans streamed down Calle 20 de Mayo on their way to
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.
game was criticized for the Cuban government's decision to hand out
invitations to worker unions instead of opening the game to the public.
in the small park on the north side of the stadium, scalpers sold tickets
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.
Reynaldo Biset, a 40-year-old construction worker from Havana, wanted 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
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
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
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
of Rhode Island.
''It's interesting that this all came together haphazardly but purposely,''
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!'' (That's it!)
The energy wowed 13-year-old Kevin Kistler, of Baltimore's St. Ignatius
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
one he had given away.
''The people are really nice here,'' he said. ''I don't think the government
what they deserve.''
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald