By JOSE DE JESUS ORTIZ | Houston Chronicle
As Juana Hernandez walked through the gates at Petco Park on Monday night, she immediately began to dance to the Caribbean beats of her youth. Shaking her hips and rotating her shoulders in step with conga drums, she was hardly bothered by the band member wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
Hernandez, a legal secretary in San Diego, fled Cuba at 16 because of the legacy left behind by men like Guevara. She refers to Fidel Castro as a tyrant, and her commitment to America’s free-market spirit was on display even while she waved a miniature Cuban flag.
Her long black blouse had a picture of a $100 bill on the chest, putting Benjamin Franklin right in the center. The logo at the bottom of her blouse was a collage of dollar bills. America is in her heart; Cuba is in her soul. And the World Baseball Classic had her dancing with a smile on her face along with countrymen from the opposite end of Castro’s base.
If it had been up to the State Department, Cuba never would have participated in the WBC or had the chance to show its mettle against the best baseball players in the world.
Thanks to the diligent lobbying effort of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and players association head Don Fehr and the Puerto Rican Federation’s promise to bail out as a first- and second-round host if Cuba wasn’t included in the WBC, Cuba ultimately was allowed to participate.
A vision at work
Baseball, not politics, won out. Selig and Fehr deserve tremendous credit for their vision and commitment to expand baseball throughout the world. Even while losing to Japan in the finals on Monday, Cuba showed it definitely belongs among the world’s elite baseball teams.
Selig’s WBC had folks talking about baseball at a time when March Madness has the supreme hold on America’s attention. The ratings in America weren’t off the chart, but check out the ratings in Japan and Latin America.
You should have tried searching for a hat, jersey or T-shirt with a Cuban logo on Monday at Petco Park. If you didn’t pick one up by the first inning, you were out of luck.
The Miami mafia — as Castro’s opponents in Miami are sometimes called — has bullied America into believing there is no support for Castro’s island in the United States. The WBC proved otherwise. We refuse to lift our embargo against Cuba yet don’t mind doing business with communist China, which, by the way, the State Department never complained about playing in the WBC.
Latinos showed up in droves in Puerto Rico and San Diego to support their Cuban brothers. Soccer still reigns throughout Latin America, but baseball is second in the region as a whole and No. 1 in places such as the Dominican Republic, Vene-
zuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Even Mexico, thanks in large part to the legacy of Fernando Valenzuela, has embraced baseball. Mexico’s victory over Team USA last week will go a long way toward further cementing baseball’s place with our neighbors to the south.
Heck, Cuba’s march to the finals of the WBC also will help baseball grow throughout Latin America.
“First of all, they didn’t even want to put (Cuba) in the tournament. But they did, because without them it wasn’t a tournament,” said Jose Reyes, a disabled Mexican construction worker who was raised in San Diego. “They proved they’re good, man, you know? That’s why they’re here. I go for them.
“I’m Mexican. I go for Mexico. They didn’t make it, but they dropped the giant (the U.S.). Maybe next time we’re going to be here against Cuba or somebody that’s better than them. You know what I’m saying?”
I hear you, hermano.
Pride runs deep
Michael Farinas was a baby when his mother, Lucia, fled Cuba and brought him to San Diego. It has been decades since they left Cuba, but he still refused to disclose his mother’s maiden name on Monday.
With family still in Cuba, there remains fear of reprisal from Castro’s regime. Nonetheless, Farinas bleeds Cuban red and had no qualms about supporting Castro’s amateurs.
“First of all, the main important thing is us living in San Diego get an opportunity to see our fellow Cubans playing here,” he said. “A lot of us left a long time ago. For us to see this here is beautiful.
“Cuba has no professional players on the team, and we’re underdogs. And we want to do it all. We want it. We did it.”
Baseball is America’s pastime, but Selig and Fehr are smart enough to know there’s passion and money for the sport throughout Latin America.
In case there were any doubts, Selig should have seen Hernandez shuffle her way through Petco Park while toting a Cuban flag and wearing a blouse with the Benjamins.