To say baseball is popular in Cuba would be an understatement. Cubans love baseball. We read an interesting piece in one of our classes that tried to explain why Cuba took on baseball as a cultural touchpoint instead of bullfighting. The Spanish colonized Cuba and occupied it for hundreds of years, whereas U.S. influence on the island has been relatively short with just 150 years or so. But the U.S. cultural influence has proven ubiquitous and lasting. Therefore, it was not surprising that baseball featured prominently in the historic Obama visit.
We watched the start of the baseball game on TV (an old tube model, not a lot of flat screens available), which coincided with our U.S.-Cuba Relations class. The symbolism there was powerful: the released doves, two famous Cuban players throwing the first pitch – one each from USA & Cuba, Michelle playing with Raul’s granddaughter, the child with each player carried a flag and a white rose. Jose Martí, Cuba’s favourite son, wrote a poem about a white rose as a symbol of friendship with the US in the late 19th century, though he urged caution in the relationship to prevent the U.S. simply replacing Spain as a colonial master.
The stadium was packed, and all 50,000 attendees were issued invitations. This was not a show-up-at-the-stadium situation. No one who didn’t know someone got in. The Rays, representing the U.S. in the game, won.
Using baseball for diplomacy is not a new idea – Kissinger, Nixon and Ford toyed with the idea in the 1970s. But something tells me this game will go down as part of Obama’s legacy.
Title quote: sign posted on a balcony during the Obama visit