As news came in from Belgium earlier during the day, the mood seemed unfit for what was about to be the most important baseball game in recent years. Tampa Bay Rays were visiting Cuba in a spring training game turned symbolic pivot for Cuban-American relations. And even with so much going on, the headlines attest to how vital sports, once again, were in bridging differences among nations.
Barack Obama and Raúl Castro sat side by side in the stands of the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana for a day at the ballpark. And as we see Chavista Venezuela’s closest ally cuddle closer to its sworn ideological enemy, we can only wonder whether this formula of baseball-diplomacy would cut it to clean the sleight between Americans and yet another Caribbean country.
And the answer is: ¡de bolas que sí!
Just picture it: It’s mid-December, so the sky is clear as it tends to perpetually be during Christmas time in Caracas, the breeze is cool and crisp, and everybody is in a better than average mood in the Estadio Universitario de Caracas, capital of the newly founded Sixth Republic of Venezuela.
The venue is stacked to the hilt with spectators, journalists, and an eclectic blend of sports fans and political notables.
President Smolansky and President Clinton rise for the national anthems, as the prelude of the biggest day in Venezuelan diplomacy in decades, after a sombre period of a total lack of it. Then the Venezuelan League’s All-Stars faces off the Criollos against the best Refuerzos. Aragua’s Alex Romero, Lara’s Juniel Querecuto and Ildemaro Vargas lead the local’s offense against league-mate pitchers Patrick Johnson, Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Joe Gardner, in a ballgame to remember.
Flags wave, the crowd plays its part by singing the Gloria al Bravo Pueblo and respectfully standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Nothing else is needed, other than a cry of “Play Ball!” to get things going.
Sports are where we find common ground, even more when the sport in question is one favored by a select few nations. It’s neutral ground, a place for competition but not antagonism, to appreciate talent and eat a hot dog or a tequeñón. It presents an opportunity to set aside road-blocking issues and switch the mood from tense to conciliatory in a second. It’s two pals chatting.
We will need as much help as possible once the Fifth is out and the Sixth is in, and symbolic offerings such as a ball game can provide a shift in tone desperately needed.