March 20, 2006

History’s Underdog in Classic Finals

When was Cuba not the underdog?

The odds were against Carlos Manuel de Céspedes when he ushered in the age of armed struggle against the Spanish Empire and began the Ten Year War in 1868.

The odds were against José Martí when he began to organize the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892.

Three and a half centuries earlier, the odds were against Hatuey, the brave Taíno that opposed Spanish conquest of Cuba in 1512.

Cubans are used having the deck stacked against them.

Three months ago it seemed certain that Cuba would not be allowed to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic tournament. But last Saturday (3/18/06) Cuba was the underdog in the tournament’s semifinal game against the heavily favored team from the Dominican Republic.

The press seemed ready and eager to excuse a Cuban “loss,” asserting that the Cuban players, the youngest in the tournament, had never faced major league caliber opposition before, and almost everyone on the Dominican roster is a major leaguer of some acclaim. As the Cuban National Team prevailed decisively, the press had to write a different story.

At the beginning of the series, there were 179 Major League players in the tournament, spread out over 12 of the 16 teams. Not one of them played on the Cuban team, and yet the Cuban pitchers ruled; Yadel Marti and Pedro Luis Lazo kept the big-league hitters on the Dominican team quiet and sedate. You almost couldn’t tell they were there.

Today Cuba plays in the championship game against Japan. Let the game begin.


March 18, 2006

Cuba in the Semifinals

Congratulations to the Cuban baseball team for overcoming a slow start and making it to the semifinals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Four teams left in a 16-team series. Two semifinal games today. One final game next Tuesday. One winner. Although we all win when the world plays baseball, and this series has allowed me to rediscover a great game in which anything can happen.

To get here, the Cuban team played six games and won four. The loss to Puerto Rico (in what will be remembered as the March 10 slaughter) was particularly painful because… it was my fault.

I confess. I fell asleep just before the game began and didn’t wake up until the 5th inning. I had been up early that day, and my batteries were in need of a recharge. I could have set my alarm clock. I could have asked a friend to call and make sure I was awake. Instead I relied on caffeine in large doses. And on this day caffeine failed.

This immature and irresponsible abuse of personal energy resources cursed the Cuban National Team. They lost 12-2 (that’s almost a football score) in seven innings under the mercy rule. Cuba had never lost under the mercy rule before.

Overall, however, the Cuban team has done well. In six games (and four wins) Cuba has outscored their opponents 35 to 32; giving Cuba a +3 runs advantage. The average score for the six games is 5.83 to 5.33, going to Cuba with a .50-run advantage.

However, if we forget the slaughter of March 10 and look at the stats for the last 5 games of the series, things look less… hair-splitting.

In the last 5 games Cuba scored 33 runs, to their opponents’ 20. That’s a +13-run advantage, with the average score of 6.6 to 4.

Getting ready to watch the first game of the semifinals at PETCO Park, I recall my heroic days as a ten-year-old Cuban ballplayer… I played with others from my street, and I was a good first-baseman… I could make the throw to third if I had to. But I couldn’t hit a watermelon with an ironing board. It didn’t diminish my appreciation for the game.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., I lost my desire for baseball and developed an interest in basketball and football, and rarely played baseball again. Whatever else happens in the series (the Dominicans are heavily favored) I’m glad Cuba got a chance to play, and it seems that the game of baseball is much more interesting when the world is involved.


March 12, 2006

Website vs. Blog

Someone recently asked me about the difference was between a blog and a website. Having had at the time less than half my normal dose of hot caffeine, I understood the question to be less generic and more personal, such as: what is the difference between “your” website and your blog (Cuba on My Mind).

Here are the differences:

The website is objective, careful and studied.

The blog is spontaneous and outspoken.

The site is open and equally friendly to all who want to learn about Martí, Maceo, the Ten Year War and the struggle for Cuban independence.

The blog is a personal expression.

The site is a fair and balanced exploration of 5 centuries of Cuban history.

The blog is a plea for peace, love and understanding.

The site is equally critical of Castro and Batista, even though defenders and propagandists for both sides have accused me of “favoring” the other.

The blog won’t shed a tear if I say the wrong thing, or get a fact or two confused.

The site strives for truth and accuracy above all else.

The blog is like a scream at the end of a game that the Lakers won (yes, I’m still a Lakers fan! Go Kobe!).

The site has to make sense, but the blog often does not.

They’re not two sides of the same coin, as some would suggest. They’re totally different coins.

The blog is activist. The site is retrospective.

The blog is Rock ‘n Roll. The site is Ludwig Van Beethoven’s variation on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which means that it rocks in its own way.

The website is an exercise in intellectual discipline and self-restraint, and a shrine to the American values of truth and honesty.

The blog is an expletive screamed at the driver with a bigger car that cut me off rudely and unnecessarily because it was his “cultural right.”

On the blog I can say “shit” if I want to.

The site would never use that word.


March 07, 2006

Kick Them When They’re Down

In 1992, when the Soviet Union dismantled, we had a golden opportunity to end the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba. This would have been a magnanimous gesture, and would have sent average Cubans the message that the U.S. was not their enemy and could be trusted. Instead of choosing to open the door and allow them “a way to come back,” as President Jimmy Carter would say, our choice was to turn up the heat on the embargo, and increase hostilities.

The fact that Cuba was not longer a threat to the U.S. was not even considered by Castro/Cuba haters, and President Bush Sr., having close friends and collaborators opposed to "Castro" (such as Posada Carrilles) signed the misnamed “Cuban Democracy Act” on October 23 1992. Congressman Torricelli said at the time that this would bring down Castro “within weeks.”

This, of course, would have been a good time to show Cubans “our good side.” Instead, as a direct result of loosing up to $6 billion in trade with the Soviets, and the increased heat of the embargo, older and younger Cubans paid with what Dr. Michele Barry describes in the American Society of Internal Medicine Journal (Vol. 132, #2, 1/18/2000) as “an epidemic of blindness that was partially attributed to a dramatic decrease in access to nutrients” and with substantial weight loss in children and adults. A soap shortage forced Cubans to use lye as a substitute, causing an epidemic of esophaegeal stenosis in toddlers who inadvertently swallowed the lye.

In 1996 President Bill Clinton, passing through Florida on the way to the White House for his second term, signed the meanest version yet of the embargo, nicknamed the “Helms-Burton Act” after its authors. This “Act” was widely criticized for it’s arrogant extraterritorial reach, and many countries were forced to pass legislation eliminating its effect. (Clinton still lost Florida, but showed that you could loose here and still get to the White House.)

More recently, in September and October of 2003, the House and the Senate both voted to end the travel ban, and many conservatives acknowledged that the ban did not uphold American values. Again, the voice of the many went unheard, but that should not surprise anyone, as the voice of the people has never been a factor in U.S.-Cuba relations. (This goes as far back as Cuba’s 1st war against Spain [1868-78]. In 1869 the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution to recognize the Cuban rebel government, but President Grant’s administration never acted on it, wishing instead to absorb Cuba as a slave-owning state.)

Are we kicking them, or are we just kicking ourselves? Will Cubans ever trust the U.S. government? Will they trust Cuban Americans? Can we continue pretending that we want to starve them for their own good?

Can you imagine what Marti and Maceo would say of an embargo that prevents their homeland from purchasing necessary food and medical supplies?

In his article, Dr. Barry asserts that “we as health care professionals have a moral duty to protest an embargo that engenders human suffering to achieve political objectives.” As Cuban-Americans, or, more precisely, as Cubans in America, don’t we have the same moral duty to our loved ones on the island? And what duty do we have to our old neighbors and friends who didn’t or couldn’t make the trip across the lake?