On Tuesday, March 22, 2016, an exhibition game took place at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays versus the Cuban national baseball team. Because of the torn relationship between Cuba and the United States, which existed for more than 50 years, some considered the game a breakthrough for sports diplomacy as President Obama and Raul Castro sat side by side. Since the Baltimore Orioles first exhibition in March 1999, no major league team has visited Cuba. Here is a quick recap of the match. In the first inning, Dayron Varona received a warm welcome back to Cuba, after defecting, started the game off with an infield fly to first base. Brad Miller knocked the ball directly to the centerfielder which he made a spectacular falling catch. Evan Longoria ended the inning with a strikeout. Matt Moore in the bottom of the first got into some trouble after pitching back to back singles. He manages to gain two outs one from Yordan Manduley and the other from Yosvani Alarcon. Moore got out of the jam with two ground balls ending the inning. Second inning Kevin Kiermaier gain the first hit against Cuban pitcher which Kiermaier turned into a double with two outs. James Loney would bring Kiermaier home with a ground ball. In the third inning, the Rays led 3-0. Next Matt Moore pitch a quick, quiet sixth inning. He pitched six hits all being singles while striking out three and walking one with zero runs. In the seventh inning, Mikie Moore started with a walk, while on first Mikie tried to take second before Steve Pearce hit a single to bring Moore home extending the lead to 4-0. The Rays had an opportunity to end the game by having the bases loaded with one out, but Richie Shaffer hit a direct shot toward the shortstop securing the Rays third outs. In the ninth inning, Cuba manages to get on the board after Rudy Reyes home run from a two-strike pitch from Alex Colome. Colome ended the game by striking out Guillermo Aviles, thus ending the game.
Later on that day, President Obama delivered a speech addressing the Cuban people at the National Theater in Havana. For the most part in Obama‘s speech, he did not endorse the communist system. Obama tried to avoid the most recent history of Cuba and the United States, focusing more on Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain. During his speech he used quotes from Jose Marti’s poem, Cultivo una rosa blanca, as a way to identify better with the Cuban people. Then Obama addressed the shortcomings of Cuba but at the same time, he spoke highly of Cuba’s education system, the medical care provided to thousands by Cuban doctors in West Africa, and the one million of Cuban exiles who left their home. Also, Obama spoke about political freedom, pointing out the progress the United States gained due to American democracy Obama stated that “The fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better,” he said. “People organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.” This statement was bold because it is indirectly challenging Cuba’s intolerance for protest. Although the United States have had ideological, social, historical, and economic differences, President Obama tries to use baseball as a bridge to unify both nations, also he strategically appeals to the youth because when the Castro regime dies out the young Cubans will be next in line to run the country.
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s retired leader, release a pessimistic opinion of Obama’s speech. He accused Obama of sweet talking the Cuban people and of ignoring the accomplishments of communist rule. Fidel critiqued Obama statement about leaving the past in the past and working towards a better tomorrow “as friends and as neighbors and as family, together” as being sappy and over-the-top stating that (Fidel) “One assume that everyone of us ran the risk of a heart of attack listening to these words.” Fidel reminded Cubans of the United States attempts to weaken and overthrow Cuba’s government in the past and how Cuba made it without the support of the United States. A spokesman for the White House, Josh Ernest, thinks that since Fidel responded so forcefully to Obama’s visit that it was an indication of President Obama’s significant impact on the Cuban people. Fidel took power in a 1959 revolution, led the nation up until 2006, where he fell ill, passing his power to Raul. Now Fidel spends most of his time in seclusion occasionally he will do an opinion piece through some source of media. Ernest tried to use this information as a way to downplay the significant and influence Fidel once held.
After the exhibition game on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays played against the Pittsburgh Pirates that following Saturday in Bradenton, Florida. During the match, a protester ran across the field throwing two bottles into the Ray’s dugout in protest to their visit to Cuba also while the suspect sprinted across the field, he began to yell in Spanish in disapproval of the Castro regime. The police arrested the protester who was a man of Cuban descent in the seventh inning and charged him with assault, causing an affray, and trespassing. Ray’s Jake Odorizzi stated that “It was a Cuba thing. . . According to the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t speak Spanish too well. … I think it was a Cuban person, frustrated about the politics of it, I guess. He threw two beer cans. Nobody got hit. Nobody did anything. Maybe some guys got wet. It was a Cuba thing.” This act suggests that not everyone is pleased with President Obama’s efforts to normalize relationships between Cuba and the United States. Lastly, will this one baseball game change Cuba? I am not sure, but I do believe it is a step in the right direction as far as normalizing relationships between Cuba and the United States. President Obama offered a friendly hand to Cuba; now it is up to the Cuban people to decide which path to take.