A Grand Slam

I love baseball. And being a Yankees fan, I also love to watch the Baltimore Orioles get clobbered. So last week's game between the O's and a group of Cuban all-stars was great fun for me. I must admit, though, that while watching this particular game, as well as the one held a few weeks earlier in Havana, I didn't have the sense I was witnessing something truly historic.

And then along came Diego Tintorero, who ran on to the Camden Yards playing field waving a sign that read, "Freedom -- Strike Out Against Castro."

As Tintorero loped across the outfield, looking more foolish than noble, I wondered how long it would take police to corral him. Suddenly there appeared the second-base umpire, who was part of the Cuban delegation, who intercepted Tintorero, lifted him over his head, then slammed him to the ground in a smooth move that would have made Hulk Hogan proud. Once Tintorero hit the grass, the umpire, Cesar Valdes, pummeled him with his fists until several players dragged him away.

In Miami this fracas has now come to represent the tyranny of the Castro regime. In an editorial this past week, the Miami Herald referred to the umpire as a "Cuban goon" who symbolized his country's efforts to stifle free speech through violence. The Herald's view (parroted by Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and others) is simplistic and too narrow.

This incident was more than just a symbol of Castro's dictatorship. It was also a sign of the Cuban exile community's declining influence. You could easily argue that this one moment aptly captured just how ineffective Cuban Americans are outside Miami. The fact that the baseball games took place at all is further evidence that their clout continues to wane following the death of Jorge Mas Canosa in November 1997.

Years from now the only thing people will remember about these games is Tintorero being dropped faster than a cheating spouse on the Jerry Springer Show. If he was trying to create a memorable scene, something akin to the unforgettable image of the lone man blocking the path of a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square, he failed miserably.

Instead Tintorero was the comic relief on every sports-highlight reel in the nation that night. Someday I expect to see the footage of him being body-slammed on an episode of International Bloopers, or maybe America's Funniest Diplomatic Pratfalls.

The only outrage I felt as a result of Tintorero's buffoonery stemmed from the Herald's May 5 headline at the top of the local section: "Ballgame protester is a longtime activist." The story noted that Tintorero was a member of the venerable exile group Alpha 66, a self-described commando unit, and that he and others claim to have taken part in a 1995 raid on a Cuban resort hotel in which they indiscriminately sprayed the building with machine-gun fire.

From my perspective this immediately transformed Tintorero from a sad clown into a contemptible human being. Either the man is a liar who concocted the story of the machine-gun attack to make himself seem like a hero to other nincompoops in the exile community, or he was telling the truth, in which case he is no better than the thugs who commit drive-by shootings on the streets of Liberty City. Either way he is nothing more than a publicity-seeking coward and should be denounced as such.

He certainly is not an "activist."
The hunger-strikers outside the Krome detention center who fasted for so long in protest of INS policies -- those people are activists. The independent journalists in Cuba who risk their lives trying to disseminate the truth about conditions on the island -- they too are activists. Their actions have meaning. Their actions make sense.

The attempt to ban Cigar Aficionado from newsstands at Miami International Airport because its contents were viewed as pro-Castro was another low point for Miami last week. The woman who ordered the magazine pulled from the shelves was Cuban exile Mayra Bustamante, an assistant director in the county's aviation department. I've known Mayra for years and I believe she's a good person. The problem was she followed her heart, not her head, a common occurrence in Miami.

There simply is no perspective in this town. No middle ground. You either support those who raucously oppose Castro in everything they do, or you risk being branded a Castro sympathizer. Too often the voices of those who try to carve a middle path are drowned out. And Miami's media play into it. For example it seems that every time someone calls into question U.S. policy toward Cuba, a reporter feels the need to quote, ad nauseum, an opposing view.

After the first game in Havana, one Miami TV station broadcast an extremely brief sound bite from the mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, expressing his support for the goodwill exchange. The station, WPLG-TV (Channel 10), then proceeded to interview a spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation who went on and on and on about how the mayor was wrong and the game was a mistake. The fact that this spokeswoman had already been afforded numerous opportunities to state her opinion about the game during previous newscasts (as well as throughout the game itself) apparently was unimportant to Channel 10.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede