Rough in the Diamond

An umpire beats up a protester, the Cubans dance on the O's, and revolution is in the air. From the bleachers, Amanda Barrett tries to take it all in at once.

May 05, 1999|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,sun staff

The bleachers at Camden Yards are a pretty good place to catch a ballgame. They're not bad for witnessing an international spectacle either.

In Section 96, Row N, Seat 14, Amanda Barrett might have been a long way from home plate Monday night, but she was perfectly situated to see a Cuban umpire body-slam an anti-Castro demonstrator to the ground behind second base and then pummel him in the face.

Amanda hasn't been to a lot of Orioles games in her life, but it seemed to her that this wasn't average ballpark fare. "Amazing," Amanda murmured. The word came up with regularity during the eventful Cuba-Orioles game.

Amanda, a 25-year-old who runs her own business in Greenbelt processing building permits, was like a lot of the locals who were transfixed by the exotic sights and sounds of the historic night. The tension in the park was unmistakable. It was as if you were hosting a dinner party and realized your guests hated each other's guts. You felt like you were a bystander in some larger drama you couldn't fully fathom.

All night it was hard to know what to pay attention to. The Cuban team was electrifying (in sharp contrast to the sullen indifference of the home team), but the stands were thick with intrigue, too. Any moment a new batch of protesters might storm the field. And always there was the possibility of seeing a real-live defection unfold before your very eyes. You don't get that at many Yankees-Orioles games.

Amanda's head swiveled like an owl's, alert for brouhaha in any corner of the stadium.

Luckily, the bleachers proved a prime vantage point. Several times Amanda spotted Baltimore cops leading one or another highly agitated individual out of the stands. To the left and right in front of her were two sizable groups of increasingly delirious Cubans. When the Oriole Bird showed up to contort his body in the traditional O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer, one of the Cubans showed similar flexibility, leaping to his feet to lead his constituency in a C-U-B-A reply.

Directly across the aisle from Amanda sat a small group of far less content anti-Castro exiles, who frequently huddled in whispered conversations punctuated by plenty of gesticulating. They looked like diplomats caucusing outside a peace conference, although real diplomats tend not to wear "Fidel Murderer" T-shirts. Every so often, one of these men would make beckoning motions to Cuban right fielder Lucia Ulacia, apparently trying to instigate a defection.

The ever-smiling Ulacia never seemed tempted. He communed regularly during the game with the Cuban nationals in the bleachers and traded hostile gestures with a group of Americans, who seemed less aggrieved about human rights than merely drunk. Ulacia had a big game with two hits, including a double and two RBIs. He didn't give the impression that anything was wrong in his world.

Neither, incidentally, did Amanda, who sat through much of the chilly game snuggling with her boyfriend, Kevin Oliver, who tends bar in Columbia. They were introduced by -- of all creatures -- the Oriole Bird, a mutual friend of both. But the Bird had nothing to do with their being here this night. As a partial season-ticket holder, Kevin was offered the chance to buy two tickets to the Cuba-Orioles game. He is much more the Orioles fan than Amanda and found Monday's game an embarrassing exhibition of all that is wrong with this Orioles team.

"I'm going to run on the field myself and protest the Orioles," he grumbled in the late innings after the Orioles had fallen hopelessly and helplessly behind. "Who cares what's going on in Cuba? These Orioles are awful."

Still, he immensely enjoyed the excitement of the night, the play of the Cubans, the action on the field and off. What he may best remember is the image of the umpire clubbing the protester. "If Roberto Alomar had spit on him," Kevin observed, "he probably would have broken Alomar's legs."

Amanda was also disappointed in the hapless O's, but couldn't help admiring the spirited play of the Cubans. When the Cuban designated hitter Andy Morales launched his back-breaking, three-run home run to right and then raced around the bases with his arms outstretched in glee, Amanda couldn't help clapping.

"How could you not like them?" she asked.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

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