The Orioles have been given the go-ahead for their proposed home-and-home exhibition series against a team of Cuban all-stars, though the game at Camden Yards may have to be played several weeks after the club's visit to Havana on March 28.
Representatives of the Orioles, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached an "agreement in principle" yesterday with Cuban officials and representatives of the U.S. State Department, according to a source close to the negotiations.
The agreement was reached after two days of intensive meetings in Washington rescued a deal that once seemed close to unraveling over the issue of how to distribute the proceeds from the two games. Some details remain to be worked out with Cuban sports officials, but an official announcement could be forthcoming in the next day or two.
The State Department is apparently satisfied that the game in Cuba would generate no significant revenue that might go to Fidel Castro's Communist government. In fact, the game in Havana would have to be subsidized by proceeds from the game at Camden Yards.
The distribution of the money had been the major issue blocking approval of the deal on both sides, but both governments finally seem ready to give their blessing to the goodwill mission.
"My understanding is, the way the games are being constructed, the issue [of the proceeds] has been addressed in a way that would allow the games to occur," said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "As the discussions are continuing, anything can happen."
Sources indicated that the Baltimore game, which was originally scheduled for April 3 at Camden Yards, might have to be delayed until late April or May because of logistical concerns, but both sides are still committed to a two-game series.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been advocating a goodwill exhibition series with members of the Cuban national team since 1996, but it wasn't until January that he received approval from the State Department to open serious negotiations with Cuban officials.
Angelos led a 14-member delegation to Havana two months ago and came back with a tentative agreement to play the two games for charity, but the deal bogged down over how the profits from gate receipts and broadcast fees would be distributed. Now, the series is apparently being restructured to be a break-even event, which would mean that there would probably be no significant charitable proceeds.
The proposal has met with predictable resistance from anti-Castro political circles in South Florida, where news of progress in negotiations has prompted two groups to plan a protest at the Orioles' Fort Lauderdale spring training facility -- before and during the club's exhibition home opener.
Orioles officials knew in January that the spring training facility might be the site of protests, but Angelos was determined to use baseball to strengthen a historic bond between the Cuban and American people.
Club spokesman John Maroon said yesterday that the team was reviewing its security procedures in advance of the possible protests, but indicated that there would be no attempt to inhibit them.
"It's well within any group's constitutional rights to form a peaceful protest," he said. "They will be given proper respect and the necessary space to conduct whatever such protest."
Though some major league players born in Cuba -- such as former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro -- have expressed reservations about the trip, the response among Orioles players has been generally positive.
"If we're going, I wish we were going for more than one day," said Orioles player representative Mike Mussina. "If there's an objection, it's that we should be able to do more than one day and one game."
Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 3/07/99