Despite Cuba’s past, the game can start a new era

by Gary Shelton on March 22, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

It is time.

The past still hurts. I get that. There are a lot of Cubans in America because of the opression of the past. I get that. There are displaced families, lives ripped from their homeland, families torn apart. I get that, too. Fidel Castro is an evil, evil man with a bloody revolution at the top of his resume. All of us should get that.

Still, it is time for a new approach, a new effort, a new ballgame. The embargo has not worked. The defections do not work. The staredown across 90 miles does not work.

Maybe, just maybe, baseball will work.

Oh, I have no illusions. Fidel Castro did not turn to his brother Raul this week and have the light of the angels pour over them. There

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are still political prisoners in Cuba. There is still repression. There is still heartache. And no, this is not my fight.

But as I read over the wonderful prose of my old friend Dan LeBatard Monday in the Miami Herald and ESPN, who wrote of the history of his family, a family that was exiled from Cuba, a family that still feels the pain of the Castro government, I thought this: Would not playing the game really help them? Would Obama's refusal to meet with the Cuban officials ease the pain?

Let's face it. One of the wonderful things about this country, no matter how you feel about it, is that it is a kinder, more compassionate nation than most on the planet. At the times we are at our most heartless, someone will reach out a hand. I believe that.

And so the planet has changed. We have had a summer Olympics in China, one of the most oppressive places on the planet, and it was okay. We had a winter Olympics in Russia. Surely, we can stand to have to a practice baseball game in front of a lot of big shots, can't we?

What should be the role of sports in politics? It is an illusion, these games,

Oh, they say the Olympics are supposed to be free of politics, but the truth is that the Olympics are chocked full of politics. This nation or that one is always boycotting this or protesting that or angry at the other country. But sometimes, a competition is just a competition. The greatest catch imaginable by Kevin Kiermaier won' t free Cubans who are falsely imprisoned. But you know what? Refusing to play won't either.

Oh, there are those who would cry no, a thousand times no, to this game. There is too much pain to play ball with Cuba. There is too little freedom at hand. There are too many fractured families.

But at some point, do we not have to let go of the pain? Ignoring Cuba didn't seem to work. Maybe recognizing them, and working with them, will.

There was a headline in the Miami Herald Monday. Carnival Cruise Lines plans to start operating tours from Miami to Cuba in May. Resorts are starting to advertise. Plane fares could be slashed. I understand that the world seems ready to forget about all of the tears for all of the years, and if I were Cuban, that would offend me.

Still, how much do you want from a ballgame? How much of policing the planet should come from a home plate umpire?

Personally, I get a smile out of the thought of someone in Havana as the Rays are explained to him. No, they aren't the Yankees. They play against the Yankees. No, they don't make that much more money than the Cubans, not like the Blue Jays. No, they aren't from where John F. Kennedy is from; that's the Red Sox.

“Do they have a Cy Young winner?” he would ask.

“No.”

“A great hitter?''

“No.”

“Are they winners?”

“Not for the last couple of years. But they're very smart with their money.”

Those, of course, are just Obama's questions. The Cubans are bound to have even more.

Matt Moore? Corey Dickerson? Steve Pearce?

Those are the Rays. These are the memories.

It's a simple game. A bat. A ball. Three outs. Nine innings. Double-plays. The seventh inning stretch.

Look, Cuba has problems. Still. It isn't free enough. There are still restrictions. But this is a game. It can only heal so much.

The rest of it? It's up to the politicians.

Like in a game, you have to have hope. Sometimes, that's a start.

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