Baseball diplomacy; Cuban exchange: Game was all Angelos could have hoped for, opening a curtain after 40 years.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CONSIDERING it didn't look like it was going to happen as recently a month ago, the game between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuban All-Stars was everything Orioles' principal owner Peter Angelos could have imagined.

Both teams and their fans -- watching at Estadio Latinoamericano or on television -- came away from an intensely competitive game with a lot of mutual respect. The Orioles grabbed an early lead, were stymied by Cuban pitching and eventually clawed out an extra-inning 3-2 win.

The United States has long embraced baseball as quintessentially "American." The World Series was so named long before a major-league franchise opened in Canada. Yet the love Cubans displayed for the sport we call our national pastime was palpable.

Cuban-American protests in South Florida that this exhibition wrongly legitimizes the regime of Fidel Castro are likely again at the return match at Camden Yards May 3.

Mr. Castro's unlikely attendance in Baltimore would be even more astounding than his larger-than-life presence Sunday.

Mr. Angelos, who pursued this event with his characteristic determination, has repeatedly said his motivation was neither politics nor scouting. The series, however, is valuable in enlightening residents of the United States about a nation 90 miles away that has been nearly invisible for 40 years.

Indeed, the exhibition in Cuba was played halfway around the globe from a war in Kosovo involving U.S. soldiers that most Americans acknowledge they barely understand. How much better to educate Americans about conditions in a foreign land than through grown men peaceably playing a children's game?

Pub Date: 3/30/99

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