Baseball Can’t Fix Cuba and That’s OK
I used to be like a lot of people.
When I turned on a baseball game, it was to escape. Watching three plus hours of baseball took my mind off whatever troubles reality plagued me with.
Then I got older and saw the truth of the game: an extension of real life, not a diversion.
It’s real people working their job, they just play in front of millions while the rest of us don’t want to be seen by Sharon in accounting. It has politics, cliques, disputes, all the things we associate with our normal lives. Just with a lot more zeros at the end of the checks.
While that sounds grim, that allows for baseball to do something beautiful. The sport can reach across socioeconomic and political lines. It inspires conversations, ones that wouldn’t happen because people wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to them.
If we’re being frank, how top of mind would current day Cuban-US relations be if we didn’t have ESPN going wall to wall with it yesterday as a part of the Rays taking on Cuba’s National Team? In an election year when politics have gripped the nation into a collective ice cream headache, baseball brought an important issue into the minds and mouths of people who otherwise wouldn’t have paid it any mind.
Baseball’s history is replete with similar instances.
Consider Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron and what they did for the advancement of race discussion in this nation. At a time in America where racial tensions were thick, for many it was best to play ignorant. That wasn’t possible when they’d pick up a newspaper or go to the ballpark. Their hand was forced; their previous self-inflicted ignorance shattered.
Curt Flood brought a similar discussion to the baseball public when he challenged MLB’s reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court. For the first time, fans no longer could think of the players as just pawns for their entertainment. They were human beings who wanted fair pay and the ability to choose their working environment, something to which most could relate.
Even in the aftermath of 9/11, one of the defining images is President George W. Bush standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium as a symbol to the rest of the world that the country was still standing. In that moment, we cast aside all allegiances and fandom to stand with one team: America.
So, how does this all tie into what happened Tuesday?
The way it’s been presented on ESPN and other outlets, this game represents just another olive branch. By bringing America’s pastime to what is still an isolated Communist island. Suddenly eagles will soar over the nation, and the dark clouds of oppression and repression would be batted away by their majestic wings. It’s all sunshine, rainbows, and dingers.
The reality, however, as it tends to be, is grimmer.
Despite all the political grandstanding, the glad-handing and grandeur of this political photo op is just that. Ethereal, more for show than for effort, and something that until real progress is achieved will be nothing more than a facade. Just ask the guy who interrupted Bob Ley during a live shot if he thinks progress is upon his country. Ask Dan Le Batard, whose parents escaped the horrors of the Castro government but are permanently scarred with the things they saw.
These people represent the Cuba you aren’t seeing. The Cuba that so many people despise. The one that people want to change.
Baseball can’t fix an entire nation. That much I know.
Here’s what I do know, though. The people of Cuba who have been under the thumb of the Castros for a half century deserve better than what they had and have. It would be beneficial for the United States to be on good terms with the nation that represents the last vestige of the Cold War. It means that baseball players and average Cubans alike wouldn’t have to face the possibility of a cold, watery grave for a better life.
Maybe baseball is the way. A game with a universal language could be a big aid in bringing together two nations, cultures, and philosophies that have very little to share. At the very least, it shines a light that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. It starts the conversation, the road towards progress and hopefully freedom for a nation starved for such. That by itself is a victory.