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Baltimore Embraces Cuba

May 4, 1999

BALTIMORE (AP) _ There was no need to worry about the Cuban baseball players running into the stands and defecting, after all. The biggest problem were the guys running from the seats onto the field.

Three men and one juvenile, all from Miami, were arrested and charged with trespassing Monday night after running onto the field during the exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and a Cuban all-star team.

The last one, an anti-Castro demonstrator carrying a sign that read ``Freedom _ Strike out against Castro″ was tackled, thrown to the ground and punched by second base umpire Cesar Valdez, who is from Cuba.

The arrests marred a night in which the Orioles made their best effort to be good hosts to the visiting Cubans.

They played Latin music over the public address system, served black beans and rice at Boog’s Bar-B-Q Pit and even staged a Cuban festival behind the bullpen area.

And, just like in Havana, there were dozens of uniformed police positioned throughout the ballpark _ several of whom were needed to chase down four fans who ran onto the field.

The Orioles did virtually everything possible to make the Cuban baseball team feel at home in the first game held in the United States between a Cuban squad and a major-league club.

The one thing no one could control, however, was the weather. It was downright chilly at Camden Yards.

Pretty wet, too.

Despite playing in conditions that hardly resembled the tropical climate of their homeland, the Cuban all-stars stayed warm by running around the bases in a 12-6 victory that delighted the 100 or so flag-waving, cheering members of the Cuban contingent seated behind the visitor’s dugout.

It was drizzling when Baltimore’s Scott Kamieniecki threw the first pitch at 7:47 p.m. and the game was delayed by rain for 56 minutes in the bottom of the first.

The Orioles thrilled the sellout crowd of 47,940 with two runs in the first inning, but the Cubans quickly took over and gained a split in the historic two-game series that began in Havana on March 28.

``It is the dream of many Cubans to play baseball in a major league stadium,″ third baseman Omar Linares said before the game. ``We are very happy and glad to be here. In this situation, everyone wins.″

Many of the Cubans wore warmup jackets as they jogged to the outfield for an abbreviated batting practice session. More than a few gazed up into the stands; had they looked all the way up to the roof they would have seen members of a SWAT team poised with binoculars.

The first game was played under sunny skies in Cuba. For the rematch, fans filled Camden Yards wearing coats in the uncharacteristic 60 degree weather.

A fan by the name of Castro _ Henry, not Fidel _ came down from New Jersey to see the game. He’s a U.S. citizen who sympathized with the guests of honor.

``It’s not fair for the citizens of Cuba who have no freedoms at all,″ he said. ``I’m looking at the expressions on the Cuban’s faces. They’re looking at a democratic country with freedom. I’m sure that’s going through their minds right now: Should I stay or should I go?″

A reporter asked Cuban manager Alfonso Urquiola before the game whether he was afraid one of his players might chase a ball into the Baltimore dugout and fail to return. All the players laughed at the suggestion, as did Urquiola.

``We’re not concerned about it. We will let the players play freely on the field,″ Urquiola said. ``We have no fear of that happening or else we wouldn’t be here.″

Two men up from South Florida on their way to New York exited off I-95 to see the game. Although they were there to see a baseball game, they were well aware of the political ramifications of the evening.

``The game is both politics and baseball,″ one said. ``It is a historic event. I don’t have to agree with it, but it is history in the making.″

That didn’t mean it couldn’t be fun. After the Orioles’ mascot spelled out O-R-I-O-L-E-S for the fans in center field, several fans rooting for the visitors retaliated by chanting C-U-B-A.

``We feel it’s all about baseball,″ said Gene Tamayo, 33, a cable TV supervisor who is part Cuban. ``I think it’s time for everybody to just come together.″

Given the current plight of the Orioles, who own the worst record in the American League, it might have been the last big game at Camden Yards this season.

``Being an archivist, I want to be a part of something historical,″ said Jenny Guilbaud, 41. ``That’s why I’m here. The political aspects, I’m not really touching on that. Life goes on.″

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