HAVANA -- Orioles owner Peter Angelos and a large contingent of officials representing Major League Baseball and Catholic Relief Services arrived here last night to begin negotiations for a humanitarian home-and-home exhibition series with a team of Cuban amateur players.
The delegation, headed by Angelos and Major League Baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson, also includes Louis Angelos, Orioles left fielder B. J. Surhoff, MLB counsel Bill Schweitzer, players union representative Tony Bernazard, CRS representative Tom Garafalo and several lawyers and advisers to assist in the complex negotiations.
"We're pleased to be here," said Peter Angelos, as his chartered plane touched down at Jose Marti International Airport. "We have every expectation that we'll have a successful trip.
"We appreciate the support of our government for this effort to advance relations between the Cuban and American people. We also appreciate the courtesy and cooperation we expect to receive from the Cuban government."
Angelos and his traveling party were greeted warmly at the airport by members of the Cuban delegation that will participate in the three days of meetings. Jose Villanueva Torre, Cuba's vice minister of sports, delivered the official welcome. Angelos made a short speech thanking the Cubans for their hospitality and expressing hope that the meetings would be successful.
Angelos and Washington-based consultant Scott Armstrong met briefly with Torre to discuss the itinerary for the mission, but will begin serious negotiations today.
Though Cuban sports officials are believed to be in favor of an Orioles visit, there are a number of complex matters to be resolved -- from the distribution of proceeds from the games to a decision on the use of aluminum or wooden bats.
The makeup of the baseball traveling party reflected the variety of issues that have to be addressed. Surhoff was invited on the trip to advise the team on playing conditions at the stadiums that the group will tour over the next three days, as well as being an unofficial representative of the players union.
Bernazard, the Major League Baseball Players Association director of international licensing, also will represent the players union in the negotiations.
Surhoff was not originally part of the delegation, but was invited earlier this week after union officials encouraged him to call Angelos with questions about the proposed exhibition series.
"We had a conference call with Don Fehr," Surhoff said of the union chief. "He said that if we had any questions, to call Peter. I called him and he said, `How'd you like to come with us?'
"I think it's a good idea to have a player who also is involved with the union to be here."
Surhoff will be included in the nuts-and-bolts negotiating sessions, but his main role likely will be to advise the Orioles on the suitability of the Cuban facilities.
"If something comes up, hopefully I can relay an opinion," Surhoff said. "I'm going to look at playing conditions and I definitely want to check on security."
He intends to steer clear of the political implications of the proposed series, which was approved last week in a surprise announcement by the U.S. State Department, so long as the proceeds go directly to charity and not to the Castro regime.
"I'm very sensitive to the concerns of Cuban people in the States and how they might feel about it," he said. "I'm not into the politics of all this. If somewhere down the road it can help, that's great, but how am I to know how the Cuban-American people feel about it?"
Angelos indicated last week that the response he has received from Cuban-American groups has been generally positive, but the trip has yet to become a reality.
Two meetings are planned for today. The delegation will discuss television coverage in a meeting with Cuban broadcast officials tomorrow and attend a Cuban baseball game at the Latin American Stadium.
If all goes well, there could be an announcement on Monday, though many hurdles have to be cleared for the two games to be scheduled.
Pub Date: 1/16/99