In Charm City, salsa style

200-pound hogs on grill, dancing fans, curious visitors everywhere

Cuba wins rematch, 12-6

`This whole game is one hot tomale'

Cubans At Camden Yards

May 04, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Soaked in rain and salsa, Baltimore welcomed a 300-person delegation of Cuban construction workers, students, bureaucrats, old athletes and young ballplayers, and a little Havana flavor shined through the clouds.

The day culminated at Camden Yards, with an evening that was part ballgame, part protest, part intercultural exchange, part Marxist seminar, part slice of Americana.

At 12: 20 a.m., the team wearing red, white and blue won, 12-6. It was Cuba.

"This whole game is one hot tamale," said Manuel Alban of Harford County, publisher of a Spanish-language newspaper. "I don't think Baltimore has ever seen a day like this."

With fears of defections running high, and with the game interrupted twice in the early innings by protesters, the day and night had a strange "look but don't touch" quality. By the fifth inning, police surrounded the playing field.

Throughout the 40-hour visit, expected to conclude this morning, a buffer of Baltimore police kept the Cuban delegation from the general public.

People on both sides of the police force said they would have liked to have had more occasion to talk.

"I'm so interested in Baltimore," said Darielis Santana, 17, a member of the Cuban delegation who was representing a Havana federation of university-bound students.

"I would like very much to talk with young people here and at the schools, but the schedule doesn't allow this."

Inside the ballpark, the Orioles and their Cuban guests labored to give the stadium a foreign feel.

The 14-piece band Cubanismo -- on a tour stop between Atlanta and Switzerland -- entertained 300 dancing fans in the picnic area. They were expected to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- a song they learned yesterday -- during the seventh-inning stretch.

At the food courts, hungry visitors sampled pork sandwiches from two 200-pound hogs, and fans devoured black beans. Between the top and bottom of the third inning, Orioles showed a video tribute to Cuba, played Latin music and put Cuba trivia on the board.

"It's been very good. Big crowd. Happy crowd," said Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos. He said he did not mind the possibility of losing, and thanked police for their response to protesters who ran out onto the field and were arrested.

Echoes of dictatorship

But some fans said the game and the police presence reflected another Havana influence in Baltimore -- dictatorship.

From the beginning of plans for the game, Cuban officials were involved in security. Chief among these was the decision by Angelos to bar Immigration and Naturalization Service agents from the ballpark, on the grounds that their presence might encourage defections.

Fans approaching the third-base visitors dugout confronted seven rows of Cuban officials, seated there in part as a security buffer. A similar buffer kept non-Cubans from the bullpen.

Dr. Luis Queral, a Cuban-American doctor from Towson who helped organize protests, had complained about Oriole-enforced bans on banners and flags, though there were indications that the restrictions had been eased for some fans.

"I understand the need for a show of force," said Angelo Solera, a prominent Hispanic community liaison for the city health department. "But sometimes it feels like there are more police than people in here."

Yesterday, shortly after two Cuban players -- pitchers Jose Contreras and Jose Iban -- began signing autographs in the left field corner during batting practice, security officials put a quick end to what proved to be one of the team's few direct exchanges with the public.

"It was thrilling," said Trish Vesely, a TV producer from Bethesda, who was one of the lucky few to get autographs. In the seat next to her, Nicole Guyton, 13, of Elkridge, had Contreras' signature on a ball next to that of Oriole pitcher Scott Erickson. "With all the police outside the stadium, I didn't expect to get this close."

Noisy protests in streets

Outside the gates, in fact, noisy protests along Camden Street dominated the scene. On Camden Street, an anti-Fidel Castro demonstration of an estimated 300 people on Camden Street was fueled by exile groups from New Jersey and Miami.

These protesters initially outmaneuvered police, blocking part of Camden Street and moving around pre-established barricades. They chanted over bullhorns, listened to speeches from Cuban exile leaders and a Cuban-American congressman, and waved banners comparing Castro to historical figures from Judas Iscariot to Slobodan Milosevic.

"If you like Cuba so much, why don't you live there?" shouted one of the protesters, Miguel Boluda of Bowie, at a passer-by, Lauren Goodsmith, who was wearing a hat asking for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Two engineers who run a popular Cuban exile Web site -- www.NoCastro.com -- in Laurel walked around with pictures showing Castro as a turkey.

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