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HomeNewsPolitical protests transform US-Cuba WBC semifinal into something beyond baseball

Political protests transform US-Cuba WBC semifinal into something beyond baseball


The sporadic “Freedom!” The chants and the running of protesters onto the field Sunday night were a reminder that the World Baseball Classic semifinal between the United States and Cuba was not just another baseball game.

This was the first time the Cuban national baseball team had played in Miami, home to the largest Cuban community in this country, since the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. It was played in, among all places, Little Havana, the neighborhood that Cubans made their own. when they began to arrive en masse. The dynamic was impossible to ignore. As was Team USA’s superiority between the lines in a 14-2 win at Loan Depot Park.

Cuba took a quick 1-0 lead with three infield singles to start the game, but the USA dominated from there in the teams’ first WBC meeting.

Former Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner, batting ninth for the second straight game, led the charge, going three for four with two home runs after hitting the go-ahead grand slam in Team USA’s quarterfinal victory. over Venezuela on Saturday. His four home runs in the tournament are the most by an American player in a WBC. His 10 RBIs are tied for most.

In all, the Americans had 14 hits, including four home runs. They scored in every inning they batted less in the seventh. They dismantled a Cuba team that exceeded expectations reaching this point without most Cubans playing in the major leagues. Team USA, the defending champion of the tournament, will face either Japan or Mexico, who play on Monday, in the final on Tuesday.

“I don’t normally hit very well here,” said Turner, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in December. But I stay with these last days. They’ve been fun for me.”

A fan holds a protest sign against the Cuban government during the World Baseball Classic semifinal on Sunday in Miami.

(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The Cuban team that took the field on Sunday was the first to field Major League players since the country’s revolution. Chicago Cubs lefty Roenis Elias started Sunday. Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox, the team’s two best position players, batted second and third. Former Dodger Erisbel Arruebarrena started at shortstop.

Each of those players took a different path back to the national team. Elias and Robert escaped from Cuba by boat. Moncada was given permission to leave in 2014. Arruebarrena defected in 2013, after a failed attempt that kept him out of Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and signed a $25 million contract in February 2014. He appeared in 22 games for the Dodgers that season. and never made it to the majors again. Five years later, he repatriated to Cuba and there he resumed his career.

The Cuban team needed permission from the United States government—sanctions prohibit doing business with the country—to participate in the tournament. However, the Cuban Baseball Federation and the players were not allowed to receive money from the WBC, unlike the other participants.

The Cuban Baseball Federation imposed two requirements for player eligibility: Players could not have publicly criticized the government or defected during international competition to play in the United States. That left the team without a number of MLB veterans and stars. Some declined an invitation. Others never received one.

One of those players was Randy Arozarena. The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder defected and took up residence in Mexico in 2016. Last year, he became a Mexican citizen to play for the country in the WBC. He has played a starring role for Mexico, helping the team reach the WBC semifinals for the first time. He told reporters after Mexico’s training session on Sunday that he hoped Cuba would beat the United States so he could have a chance to beat his home country in the final.

Trea Turner, left, celebrates with his US teammates after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning against Cuba.

Trea Turner, left, celebrates with his US teammates after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning against Cuba.

(Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Arozarena, who attended Sunday’s game, will not have that opportunity. The US team was too much for Cuba to handle. Adam Wainwright recovered from the awkward start to the game to limit Cuba to one run in four innings. Miles Mikola, his teammate on the St. Louis Cardinals, followed with the same line before Angels lefty Aaron Loup spiked.

“I’ve been concentrating on our pitching,” Team USA manager Mark DeRosa said. “How do we line up our shot to get to the final day after day? That has been the greatest. How do we honor these parent clubs, give the kids the jobs they need?

The pregame press conference, usually a benign event, had a dose of tension. The room was full of Cuban natives. Most defected to the United States from Cuba. Some others still call Cuba home. At least one reporter worked for Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

“Right now, we are focused on what really matters: a game that is going to be difficult, against a good team,” Cuba’s manager Armando Johnson said in Spanish. “I don’t think we are thinking about what is going to be said or done.”

The dynamic fizzled out on the field in the sixth inning when a protester emerged from the crowd. He stopped in center field, where he held up a sign calling for the release of a group of political prisoners before security escorted him away.

Another protester ran onto the field before the seventh inning stretch. He eluded security guards until he stumbled into the infield. Another protester breached security in the eighth inning.

“I went up and asked if the race rule was still in effect here,” DeRosa said, “because I just wanted to get guys off the field.”

“Patria y Vida”, the slogan and song linked to the protests in Cuba in 2021, featured prominently on flags, posters and clothing. But the public was, in general, on the side of the Cuban team. The fans roared during pregame performances and after the Cuban national anthem. They exploded with every hit from a Cuban bat. Flags flew through the crowd. People cheered for the players, if not for the government they represented.

Before the game, however, protests formed outside the stadium, beyond the perimeter of the building. One drew dozens of people at 5 p.m.

People gathered around photos of political prisoners and people said to have been killed under Cuban government watch. Some wore red MAGA caps. Anger and the smell of cigarette smoke floated.

A man took the microphone to address the group in Spanish. He thanked the police for allowing the protest and called for it to remain peaceful. His companions complied. The group grew as the first pitch approached. Periodic chants broke out.

“Long live free Cuba! Live!”



A few meters away, on the other side of a fence, reggaeton music was playing and alcohol was flowing. Fans searched for the best entrance to their seats. They arrived with mixed feelings. They left having witnessed the story and a beating.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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