Sports could ease ties between Cuba and the USA, said Boston.com
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- Travel and Tourism
- United States
- 11 / 24 / 2009
A Softball game was held days ago where each team felt they knew each other for a long time.
They burst into the hush of the four-star Hotel Telegrafo like old friends into a neighborhood pub, wearing baseball pants and slapping one another on the back. Shoving together white-linened tables, they beckoned waiters to bring cans of cold beer and seafood salads.
The group of aging amateur softball players - half of them Cuban residents, half visitors from Massachusetts - had met just a few hours before, standing nervously along the base lines of a children’s baseball field flanked by palm trees while a band
played “El Himno de Bayamo’’ and “The Star Spangled Banner.’’ Separated by language and culture and a half-century political divide, at first they had hardly known what to make of one another.
But by the time they got to lunch, guys like Gary Buxton, a cigar-chomping insurance appraiser from Holliston, and Les Gore, a retired corporate recruiter from Newton, were trading barbs - through an interpreter - with Cubans like 57-year-old Sixto
Elias Coury del Castillo.
“It’s a beautiful thing,’’ said Armando Aguiar Gil, 60, a former coach of Cuba’s national softball team. “Sports is a way of uniting people, and this could be the beginning of something, a step toward something good for the people of Cuba. You can feel it.’’
This is “softball diplomacy,’’ as players put it during the Old Time Senior Softball Tournament last week between teams of seniors from Massachusetts and their counterparts in Cuba. And it seemed, in some small way, to work: A week ago, some 60 players from the state boarded planes for Havana, many of them knowing little, if any, Spanish or much about the country for which they were bound. But after a few games, they experienced a surprisingly powerful common bond with the Cuban players: a simple love of the game.
“Sometimes little things can turn into big things,’’ said Michael Eizenberg, a softball player from Wellesley who conceived the tournament, then spent months securing permission for it. “Especially when big things seem impossible.’’
Amateur US teams have occasionally come to Cuba, seeking to strengthen ties between the two nations through a shared affinity for sports, particularly baseball and softball. But now is a particularly poignant time, as the Obama administration adopts a more conciliatory tone toward Cuba’s communist dictatorship and Congress considers an end to heavy restrictions on US travel.
The Cuban players and their fans said they were delighted by the visit, and made it clear they do not share their government’s antipathy toward the United States.
“The people have nothing to do with the government,’’ said Luis Zayas Travieso, 72. “We, the people, are open.’’
Travieso, who played baseball in Mexico with the Cuban-born star Luis Tiant in the 1950s, wore a Boston Red Sox cap and quickly spotted Nelson Diaz, a longtime friend he hadn’t seen in years. Diaz, 50, a Miami resident in Cuba to visit family,
had heard about the tournament and came to cheer.
Cuba is fully aware the embargo is a government policy and the North American people has nothing to do with it and it is mostly unaware of the situation going on for long.