Camden game against Cuba is May 3

With early April dates unworkable, team now has extra time for promotion

March 14, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A historic home-and-home series between the Orioles and a Cuban all-star team became reality yesterday when club officials and the Cuban sports ministry reached agreement on a May 3 exhibition at Camden Yards. The game follows a March 28 exhibition in Havana and culminates a three-year pursuit by Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, who only two weeks ago thought the idea in peril.

Major League Baseball and possibly the State Department are expected to issue an announcement either Monday or Tuesday, according to a source familiar with negotiations.

The American contingent landed in Havana on Thursday evening and for two days reached agreement on details ranging from broadcast rights to umpires to equipment. Orioles executive vice president John Angelos termed the deal "amazing." Said chairman's representative Louis Angelos, who coordinated logistics for an initial meeting last month between team officials and Cuban representatives, "For a while, this looked very much like a dead issue."

Union chief Donald Fehr and Orioles player representative B. J. Surhoff notified the club during an afternoon meeting at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

The game at Camden Yards was crucial to the senior Angelos recouping expenses from the team's sojourn to Cuba. Five charter planes are expected to transport players, team officials, security personnel and journalists to the island nation, which hasn't been host to a professional American baseball team since Fidel Castro ascended to power more than 40 years ago.

The event will complement a March 28 game in Havana, which had been agreed upon last Saturday but not formalized until logistical, security and stadium issues could be settled.

An agreement was reached yesterday at about 1: 30 p.m. John and Louis Angelos represented their father, Peter Angelos, while the commissioner's office dispatched executive vice president Sandy Alderson and the Major League Baseball Players Association sent special assistant Tony Bernazard.

Two weeks ago the parties appeared to reach an impasse over matters of security and stadium improvements. Those issues dissolved during a deadline session last weekend, leaving only arrangements for a rematch at Camden Yards. An initial date, April 3, was rescinded because of the Cuban playoffs, as well as the Orioles' Opening Day on April 5. The May date was deemed preferable because of the greater opportunity to market the game.

Game time and ticket prices for the Camden game have yet to be set. The March 28 game will be played at noon.

While acknowledging the games' cultural importance, Surhoff said their timing does create an inconvenience for players, some of whom pressed him for information during yesterday's meeting. The Orioles also agreed to transport their anticipated Opening Day roster to Havana.

"It's not that the players don't know the significance of it, but we're looking at more pressing issues like trying to make a team," Surhoff said. "It's not a reflection on them but it's not our first priority."

Surhoff also said an April date would have represented less of a disturbance to the club.

"I think as players we would've preferred to play before the season started. Once the season starts, days off are valued very much," Surhoff said. "When you play them, you're not going to play like it's Rochester or some minor-league team. You're going to play that game to win. They're going to play to win. This is more of a game. People are going to be playing to win. It's going to be a very big deal to them, I'm sure."

Negotiations included equipment and umpires to be used. The Cubans consented to use wooden bats rather than traditional aluminum; the Orioles agreed to the international, or soft, baseball. A mixed six-man umpiring crew will be employed, three apiece from the American League and Cuba. The agreement specifies that an AL umpire work the plate for both games.

Complete details were not provided, but arrangements have been made to upgrade the Cuban facility, including padding for the outfield fence, a painted hitter's background and construction of temporary dressing facilities. ESPN will televise both games but is apparently awaiting State Department approval of financial arrangements.

"Any remaining concerns we had were about scheduling and logistics. We had an agreement in principle. This is something both parties wanted to see happen in a spirit of people-to-people cooperation," said John Angelos.

Pub Date: 3/14/99

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