Cuban broadcasters rise to the occasion, too


May 04, 1999|By MILTON KENT

Say whatever you want about the gulf in political philosophy between the United States and Cuba, but one can always find commonality in the great game of baseball.

Take last night's exhibition between the Orioles and a Cuban all-star team, for instance. From the third-floor broadcast booth at Oriole Park, Josh Lewin was bemoaning how badly the home team was playing on American television.

And one door over in the next booth, Hector Rodriguez, one of three Cuban television announcers, was doing the same thing, albeit in Spanish.

You can change the language, but a foul ball in English is a foul in Spanish, just as center field, sliders, indifferent play and bad pitching need no interpreter.

If anything, what was different about last night's game, at least in regard to the broadcasters, was their respective approaches.

While the American approach was cool and dispassionate, the 50 Cuban reporters and broadcasters credentialed for the game were cognizant of the magnitude of the contest back home.

Julio Cesar Bayard, one of the radio announcers sending the descriptions of the game back to Cuba, knew the game had an import in his homeland that surpassed the significance of any exhibition, regular-season or postseason game he had called in his 32 years on the air.

Bayard, who is a commentator for Radio Rebelde, one of Cuba's leading radio networks, calls as many as 90 games each season, but last night's was something special.

"You have to remember that in Cuba, this game is bigger than the World Cup, than just about anything," said Bayard, through an interpreter. "This is of a major magnitude. People will pay attention."

Generally speaking, Cubans pay attention to baseball, but last night's game was expected to play to a larger-than-normal audience. As many as 9 million of Cuba's 11 million citizens were expected to tune in to part or all of last night's game here on one of the nation's two television networks.

In American terms, a viewership of that type would be roughly akin to doubling the audience for the Super Bowl.

The reason for the increased interest isn't hard to figure out. Try as some might to view the game strictly in athletic terms, there was a significant global meaning to the contest that the Cuban audience was going to focus on.

"It's the conflict. For a lot of the years, there has been political conflict between the two countries and everyone wants to see what will happen," said Bayard.

Yet, Bayard said, even with the geopolitical subplot at play, there was no pressure from home to tailor the game's descriptions in anything other than a truthful way, even with a set of extraordinary restrictions that American baseball reporters rarely face.

For instance, the clubhouses, which are normally open to the media before regular-season games, were closed last night, and the Cuban clubhouse was off-limits to reporters even after the game, much as they were in the first meeting in Havana in March. Still photographers were not permitted to take pictures in the clubhouses.

Also, while home viewers were able to see the second protest of the evening, reporters were kept from watching coverage of the protest at Camden Yards. In recent seasons, the Orioles have taken to blocking replays of controversial plays and conduct, not only on the video scoreboard that serves the public, but also on the monitors that come directly from the production truck and go to the press box and monitors around the stadium.

But whatever was said was done expressively. Rodriguez's booming bass voice was largely dispassionate early on and he stayed glued to his chair, next to his two partners.

That is, until the Cubans broke through for four runs in the second. Then, Rodriguez fairly hopped about in his seat and his voice rose and rose, chattering with excitement, as he bled blue and red.

Proof, indeed, that baseball is a universal sport.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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