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Cuban Fans Long for Baseball Win

May 2, 1999

HAVANA (AP) _ Sure, Cuban fans think their team can beat the Baltimore Orioles. Everyone else does.

``On Monday, everyone will leave work early to make sure they get home in time for the game,″ said Gerardo Mederos, 29, an agronomist who regularly joins other baseball fans in the Parque Central _ Havana’s Central Park _ to discuss baseball. ``No one wants to miss one second of it.″

As Monday night’s game at Camden Yards approached, passion about the event spread across the Cuban capital. There has been no official announcement, but Cubans assumed the game would be broadcast live on government television.

Before the first game, Cubans weren’t sure how their players would do against American big leaguers. But after seeing their all-stars lose to the Orioles 3-2 in 11 innings March 28, Cuban fans dreamed of seeing their team beat Baltimore, which began Sunday with a a 6-17 record, the worst in the American League.

``The Orioles have a good team, but so do we,″ said William Quijano, among the sports enthusiasts who gather in the park every day. ``Our players are strong, big and are going to have a very powerful team of the best players in Cuban baseball. We were not able to have that the first time.″

In the first game, many of the best players were unable to play because they were involved in the playoffs of Cuba’s league.

Among those who weren’t in the first game but are likely to be on Monday’s roster were second baseman Antonio Pacheco and first baseman and designated hitter Orestes Kindelan. First baseman Omar Linares, who played during the first game, is also likely to be on the roster.

As of early Friday, the only list announced by the communist sports officials was a 48-man preliminary roster.

``No one knows who is going to win, but we really want to win and this time we know for sure that we have a chance,″ said Orestes Llorente, 61, an office equipment technician who is among the most vocal amateur baseball analysts found regularly at the ballpark.

He said he worried that protests outside the game by those opposed to the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro would mar the game. Llorente also seemed upset about the possibility of defections by Cubans during the visit.

``That kind of thing would be very bad,″ Llorente said. ``It is a betrayal of confidence. But we have seen in the past that our real sports stars, especially baseball stars, always return home.″

Almost 300 Cubans were to travel to Baltimore for the game, including reporters, retired players, members of youth groups and outstanding students.

Some of the better-known athletes in the delegation were former boxer Teofilo Stevenson, high jump world record-holder Javier Sotomayor and Connie Marrero, who once played with the Washington Senators and threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the first game.

Twenty-five school-age Cubans, accompanied by a group of parents, are scheduled to play a game Tuesday against a group of Baltimore-area Little Leaguers _ just as a group of American youngsters played Cuban children during their visit to Havana last month.

Update hourly