Posted: Monday March 20, 2006 11:31AM; Updated: Monday March 20, 2006 11:52AM
Pitcher Pedro Lazo and his teammates celebrate their win over the Dominican Republic on Saturday.
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A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to visit L.A. to interview the actor Andy Garcia for a national magazine. Garcia has a movie about to drop called The Lost City, in which he stars and makes his directorial debut. It's a terrific film, an epic dealing with the Cuban revolution and its immediate effect on one Cuban family.
Garcia was born in Cuba, fleeing with his family in 1961 when he was 5 years old. With City, Garcia hopes to enlighten audiences about what happened in 1959 when Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their 26th of July Movement overthrew the Batista regime.
When I mentioned to Garcia that to many Americans, Guevara is just an iconic picture on a T-shirt, Garcia nodded. "Most of them wear the T-shirt and they don't know who he is," he said. "Even people who kind of know him say, 'He was a man who stood up for social justice.' I say, 'Yeah, and he also executed about 2,000 people.' They go, 'That's not true.' But it is, it is."
I bring all of this up because tonight Cuba will face off with Japan in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic. And while I'd like to see Cuba win, for me, cheering for Cuba comes with a side order of issues.
Generally, I love underdogs, so much so that nearly my entire fanship during the NCAA tournament is dictated by which team has the lower seed. And Cuba -- a team with no major leaguers that has beaten two Cy Young winners and two MLB MVPs -- certainly fits that bill in this tournament.
But it goes deeper than that. For most of my life, I knew nothing about Cuba. Despite growing up in Atlanta (just 700 miles from Havana) and visiting many of the Caribbean islands surrounding Cuba, for the most part, all I knew was that Cuba was large and it was illegal for Americans to travel there.
That all changed in 1999, when I met the woman who would become my wife. She was born in America, but her parents had escaped from Cuba during la revolución, bringing with them one suitcase apiece, stuffed with clothes and photos and memories. My in-laws later managed to get their parents out, and I grew close to one of my wife's grandmothers, who insisted I call her Abuela. She spoke no English and I spoke little Spanish, but she loved coffee, cooking and the Atlanta Braves, so we got along well. And I learned un poquito of Spanish along the way.
A few years ago, my wife and her mother visited Cuba on a humanitarian mission. It had been nearly 50 years since my mother-in-law had visited. She returned saddened, reporting that the Cuba of her youth had deteriorated to the point of poverty, wondering exactly what had happened to the vibrant, pulsating country where she was raised.
To even talk about Cuba isn't the simplest thing in the world, because there are a lot of politics and deeply held feelings involved, on both sides of the political spectrum. Which makes Cuba's involvement in the World Baseball Classic a sticky subject, and conflicts my feeling even moreso.