Even before the first pitch, the 50th anniversary “reunion” game of Cuba’s famed Industriales baseball team has been dominated by community infighting, finger-pointing, and mutual suspicion — all over an event which organizers say was supposed to promote unity among the island’s people.
Some exile groups view the Havana baseball team as a propaganda tool for the Castro dictatorship. When Florida International University last month abruptly pulled out as a host site for the doubleheader game, event organizers complained the university was giving in to community pressure.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, the exhibition game — reuniting former Industriales players from Cuba and the United States — will go on, thanks to a last-minute booking at the city-owned Fort Lauderdale stadium. Among those taking part: 77-year-old Antonio “Tony” Gonzalez, an outfielder from the 1960s, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who fled Cuba in 1997 and signed with the New York Yankees.
“It’s a historic meeting. It’s amazing,” Gonzalez recently told the BBC network. A similar exhibition game was held last week in Tampa, with little controversy.
Game organizer Alejandro Canton is still bitter about FIU’s sudden withdrawal, calling it “disrespectful.”
“It was in the middle of Miami, closer to everybody ... this is our city, we want to enjoy our city, and it’s just a game,” he said.
Others say the mere idea of Industriales players taking the field at FIU was offensive. The university has a large Cuban-American student population, and next door to its main campus, at Tamiami Park, is the Cuban Memorial monument that honors victims of Fidel Castro’s oppressive government.
“These guys, they want to play baseball in the same place, you believe that?” said Miguel Saavedra, head of the exile group Vigilia Mambisa. The Industriales team, he says, is “the right hand of the Castro regime.”
FIU administrators have said little about the event. In public records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, FIU appeared to be fully cooperative in the idea of hosting the game — until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
The university’s contract with Canton, for games to be held Aug. 10-11, allowed FIU to cancel at any time if the university determined the event “is not in the best interest of FIU due to circumstances beyond FIU’s reasonable control.”
It was that clause — with no further explanation — that the university cited when notifying Canton that the game was being called off. When the cancellation subsequently made international news, FIU released this short statement: “FIU Athletics has canceled a contract with Somos Cuba Entertainment Group for the use of one of FIU’s athletic venues. The event was canceled due to a contractual matter. We regret any inconvenience this has caused.”
The university declined to comment further this week. Almost a month after the cancellation, FIU’s lawyers told Canton there were additional justifications for the university’s action: Canton had failed to pay the required $7,940 fee to secure the stadium, and FIU regulations limit political speech to designated “Free Assembly Areas” on campus, which don’t include athletic facilities.