Going to Bat for Cuba

Writing and blogging about Cuba for five years has been a generally positive experience and has resulted in several close friendships. One such friend is Val Prieto, the founding editor of Babalu Blog. Val periodically has an existential crisis, during which he doubts whether what we are trying to do -- raise awareness of the Cuban reality -- is having any effect. It’s usually up to me to talk Val down from the ledge. The other night I found myself up there standing next to him.

During a recent business trip to San Diego, I  arranged to catch the Japan vs. Cuba game at Petco Park during the World Baseball Classic. Excited, I bought a ticket in the 17th row directly behind Cuba's dugout. It was a great seat, or so I thought. But I was quickly reminded why I have never rooted for any Cuban sports team.

To my right was a group of about 30 Cubans with musical instruments who were singing and making a racket. That would have been great, except two of them had flags similar to the one that Maria Isabel, a Houston-area Obama precinct captain, hung in her volunteer campaign office. It’s a Cuban flag with the Argentine murderer Che Guevara’s face superimposed on it. I immediately wanted Japan to win.

Then I received an email on my BlackBerry from a Cuba-related website that I purposefully avoid. Somehow I’m on its mailing list. The subject line was "End of the Embargo and Obama at the Summit of the Americas." I replied with one word: unsubscribe. However, the message continued to bother me because it's true. The U.S. is already the Castro regime’s fourth largest trading partner (enabler). Our country allows entry to communist sympathizers (like the ones who were sitting near me at the ballgame) under the pretext that they are political exiles. I'm sure that some were young Cubans, confused about the symbols of their country. But there were also certainly chivatos (informers) and lowlifes from the Castro regime.

As the game wore on, it became apparent that Japan would win. The mob of Guevara-loving fans became quieter and I became louder. I also managed to improve on my seat. Soon I was in the second row behind Cuba's dugout. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of Fidel Castro's son, Antonio Castro, standing about 15 feet from me. For his blogging efforts, my buddy Val was honored with a visit to the White House to meet the president, while my reward was to be able to sit within spitting distance of Fidel Castro’s son.

I didn’t spit at him, though. I heckled him. I said that Dashiell, an ex-girlfriend of his, sent her regards (not true) and that she's now acting in porno films (true). I yelled that this is a great country because even Fidel's son can visit. To the team I yelled that it’s a free country. I yelled "Let them stay, let them stay," referring to the ballplayers who might be thinking of defecting. Then I yelled "Major Leagues, Major Leagues" to tempt them. Then Ichiro Suzuki hit a triple and I proclaimed that he makes millions in the major leagues. I shouted the names of Cuban major league players like Livan Hernandez and Jose Contreras. I repeated all these things many times in Spanish.

When the Cubans made the last out I kept at it. Then one of the members of the Cuban delegation glared and pointed at me as if challenging me to a fight. My blood began to boil and I could only think of three words (Val’s words): peste a guapo (stench of bully). Here was a man who was probably a Castroite state security agent trying to intimidate me. I yelled at him in Spanish, challenging him to come up and follow through on his threats. Then a San Diego police officer standing on the field signaled me to leave the stadium. I protested and he summoned two other cops. The Cuban goon disappeared into the dugout, so I went with the officers voluntarily. When we got to the main concourse I explained to the cops what had happened -- one of the Cuban thugs took offense at me telling the players they could defect if they wanted to, and  he tried to intimidate me by challenging me to a fight. I told them I wasn't going to back down to some Fidelista henchman in my own country. They assured me I wasn’t under arrest but asked me for my ticket and my driver's license so they could write a report. They walked me to the gate and I didn't resist, shaking both their hands as I left.