Cubans bring love of game to Taxpayers' Stadium

May 12, 1999|By Gregory Kane

I ARRIVED at the Maryland Taxpayers' Baseball Stadium -- erroneously named Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- just before 9 the night of May 3. The game between Cuba and the worst baseball team in the free world -- otherwise known as the Baltimore Orioles -- should have been nearly 90 minutes old.

But the tarps were on the field. The game was in rain delay. Cuban music wafted throughout the stadium and the Cubans, scattered throughout Oriole Park but mostly concentrated behind the Cuban players' dugout, rocked to the beat.

I had come to do what no other red-blooded American conservative would ever consider doing: root for the Commies to beat those capitalists.

Had this been a team of American college all-stars up against Cuba's best, I'd have been rooting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" for all nine innings and waving the American flag as proudly as the Cubans waved theirs. But this game pitted the Cubans -- a team that very much belongs to its people -- against major-league baseball and all its repulsive and greedy excesses.

The game started badly for my side. The O's scored two runs in their half of the first inning when the game resumed after the rain delay. But the Cubans rallied in the top of the second. A triple brought in two runs to tie the game. Another hit brought in a third run for the visitors, and those ever-lovin' O's -- always striving to clutch the ring on the merry-go-round of haplessness -- walked in a run.

Cuba's fans were going bananas by this point, leaping, cheering wildly, hoisting the Cuban flag above their heads, dancing in the aisles. They were having the best time any group of folks ever had with all their clothes on.

I was in the press box, cackling hysterically. Greed and Excess were taking their well-deserved lumps, given to them by a bunch of guys from a tiny island nation where baseball is a passion, not a business. Americans have taken their sports and turned them, on the professional level, into something grotesque. For professional sports team owners and players, the bottom line is the dollar. Fans are regarded as pesky peons who aren't worthy of consideration.

I looked at the Cuban fans with envy. There was something about their love for the Cuban baseball team that reminded me of the love we Balti-morons once had for our Colts. Those were in the days before professional sports got ugly, before an owner who was as idiotic as he was greedy slipped out of Baltimore with our football team and headed to Indiana. That's something the Cubans will never have to worry about: their baseball team will always be theirs, no matter how many major-league teams try to raid the island for players.

Balti-morons, on the other hand, suffer under the delusion that the Baltimore Orioles are somehow our team. If there were truth in advertising, the team would be called the Peter Angelos Orioles. The Baltimore Ravens would be the Art Modell Ravens. Cities no longer count as homes for professional sports teams. Stadiums are not built for fans. They're built for team owners, corporations and political bigwigs.

A quick walk around the Maryland Taxpayers' Baseball Stadium's corporate row confirms this. There are suites for Kraft, Comcast and AT&T, Merrill Lynch, Xerox, Bell Atlantic, Chevy Chase, Provident Bank, First National Bank, Crown, MCI, Legg Mason and yes, even one for The Sun.

Most egregious of all is the suite with the name "Governor Parris Glendening" on it. Conspicuous by its absence is the suite marked either "Maryland Taxpayers" or "Joe and Jane Average Fan." The folks whose dollars went into building the stadium apparently don't rate a luxury suite. But perhaps the governor would be willing to give us his.

By the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cubans led, 12-6. A group of Cubans seated just to the right of the press box -- two men, two women and two boys -- stood in the front row and cheered each out. Two waved a giant Cuban flag. One of the boys wore a smaller Cuban flag tucked under his hat so that the emblem of his country dangled below his shoulders, much like the headdress of a French foreign legionnaire.

After the final out, they thrust their hands in the air, a victory salute. One of the men draped the big Cuban flag over his shoulders and one of the women grabbed the other end as the group danced off into the slight chill of a Baltimore evening.

Oh, to have been a Cuban for just one night.

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