Baltimore Orioles: Barack Obama and the politics of sports
The Baltimore Orioles and the baseball world watched yesterday as President Barack Obama watched a baseball game with Raul Castro.
Baltimore Orioles fans of course remember another game in Havana, Cuba – prior to Barack Obama being President of the United States. Well before, in fact. The O’s became the first US team to play in Cuba in approximately 40 years back in March of 1999. They traveled to Havana and played a team of Cuban all-stars, who returned the visit in May when the teams met again at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
However yesterday it was the Tampa Rays playing the Cuban National team at the same ballpark in Havana. The game of course coincided with President Obama’s visit to the island nation, the first such visit by an
American President in 88 years. Calvin Coolidge (“Silent Cal”) was the last President to set foot on Cuban soil. The entire first half of this week has been incredibly historic, whether you agree with President Obama’s embrace of Cuba or not.
My parents’ generation of course almost saw the world end over Cuba in 1962, and my generation grew up knowing Cuba as a foe (on par with the USSR). So to people of a certain age (myself included), seeing our President taking in a baseball game with Raul Castro in Havana is something we thought impossible at one time. But now that “dream” so to speak is reality.
Sports has long played a role in dialogue when needed. The Olympics themselves were supposed to be a way that the world could unite under the banner of sport. And for the most part that’s exactly how it goes. However there might not be two other nations on earth who could in theory be bound so closely together as the US and Cuba are by the love of baseball.
There were times I suspect when the discussion between the Presidents was fairly heated. Castro seemed to embrace the view long held by his brother, Fidel, that most if not all of Cuba’s problems were due to America’s embargo. While President Obama seems to be willing to end the embargo, it would take an act of Congress to do so. On the flip side, President Obama was very forceful in delivering a message long-held throughout the free world: Cuba’s continued human rights abuses always have been, and always will be unacceptable.
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Yet the two leaders seemed very cordial and seemed to bond very well together during the game. The Castro brothers are legendary baseball fans, and Fidel Castro even played at a semi-pro level at one time. Our two nations share a passion for the game, and it’s through commonalities that we find agreements in this world. We all know President Obama as mainly a basketball fan, however his support of the Chicago White Sox is also fairly well-known. Overall, he’s a sports guy just like most of us…
…and I suspect that when the two sat together at the game yesterday, Raul Castro noticed our President’s love of his favorite sport also. Baseball will always be America’s pastime, but it’s also a pastime that belongs to Cuba. And sometimes simple gestures such as sitting with someone at a baseball game can open or move along dialogue. That’s always been true in international relations.
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For the record, I’m glad that Tampa won the game. I don’t usually pick sides in games because it causes a conflict of interest. However when it’s an American team against a team from another country, that’s a different story! However the real winners here are future generations of Americans and Cubans. Generations from now, our two Presidents sitting together taking in a beloved pastime for both nations might well be seen as turning a corner by both nations. If there’s one thing we know about us Americans, it’s that if we put our minds to it all things are possible.