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Chilly Weather, Warm Greeting

Baseball: Orioles make Cuban national team feel right at home in controversial exhibition at Camden Yards.

May 04, 1999| From Associated Press

BALTIMORE — They played Latin music over the public address system, served black beans and rice at Boog's Bar-B-Q Pit and even staged a Cuban festival behind the bullpen area.

There were also dozens of uniformed police positioned throughout the ballpark, just like in Havana.

The Baltimore Orioles did virtually everything possible to make the Cuban baseball team feel at home Monday night. The one thing no one could control, however, was the weather.

It was downright chilly at Camden Yards. Wet too.

The rain subsided temporarily about 90 minutes before game time, but it was drizzling when Baltimore's Scott Kamieniecki threw the first pitch at 7:47 p.m. (EST) and the game was delayed by rain in the bottom of the first.

The Cuban players were excited to begin the first baseball game between a Cuban squad and a major league team held in the United States.

"It is the dream of many Cubans to play baseball in a major league stadium," third baseman Omar Linares said. "We are very happy and glad to be here. In this situation, everyone wins."

Many of the Cubans wore warmup jackets as they jogged to the outfield for an abbreviated batting practice session. More than a few gazed into the seats and up into the stands; had they looked up to the roof, they would have seen members of a SWAT team poised with binoculars.

Outside the stadium, hundreds of protesters staged a peaceful demonstration against the two-game series, which began March 28 in Cuba with the Orioles winning, 3-2, in 11 innings.

That game was played under sunny skies. For the rematch, fans filled Camden Yards wearing coats in the uncharacteristic 60-degree weather.

"We believe the weather is very chilly but we will adapt after our practice," Linares said.

A fan by the name of Castro--Henry, not Fidel--came down from New Jersey to see the game. He's a U.S. citizen who sympathized with the guests of honor.

"It's not fair for the citizens of Cuba who have no freedoms at all. I'm here to support the Baltimore Orioles, they're an American team," he said. "I'm looking at the expressions on the Cuban's faces. They're looking at a democratic country with freedom. I'm sure that's going through their minds right now: Should I stay or should I go?"

A reporter asked Cuban Manager Alfonso Urquiola before the game whether he was afraid one of his players might chase a ball into the Baltimore dugout and fail to return. All the players laughed at the suggestion, as did Urquiola.

"We're not concerned about it. We will let the players play freely on the field," Urquiola said. "We have no fear of that happening or else we wouldn't be here."

Two men up from South Florida on their way to New York exited off I-95 to see the game. Although they were there to see a baseball game, they were well aware of the political ramifications of the evening.

"The game is both politics and baseball," one of them said. "It is a historic event. I don't have to agree with it, but it is history in the making."

No one could argue the historical significance of the game. But was it about baseball or politics?

"We feel it's all about baseball," said Gene Tamayo, 33, a cable TV supervisor who is part Cuban. "I think it's time for everybody to just come together."

For baseball scouts, it was a chance to rate some talented players who might otherwise never have been noticed.

"From a pure baseball standpoint, any time you have a chance to see players you don't normally see, it's a bonus. It gives you something to put in your library," said Bob Engle, a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Given the current plight of the Orioles, who own the worst record in the American League, it might have been the last big game at Camden Yards this season.

"I think it's a historical game and, being an archivist, I want to be a part of something historical," said Jenny Guilbaud, 41. "That's why I'm here. The political aspects, I'm not really touching on that. Life goes on."

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