In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Loria milked emotions for staged reunion

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

I believe in fairy tales, the magic of Christmas and that Bigfoot is somewhere out there.

But in Marlins team owner Jeffrey Loria, not at all.

The most-loathed team owner in America struck a new low this week with a manipulative video of the most likeable guy in baseball — newly crowned Rookie of the Year José Fernández, a cubanito with a lot of heart and pitching skill, reuniting with his beloved abuela after a six-year separation.

The baseball star escaped by boat from Cuba in 2008 with his sister and mother, who almost drowned during the crossing. He left behind a baseball-loving grandmother unable to see her grandson play in the major leagues. She climbed up to her rooftop to catch his games on radio.

And now… there’s Fernández, sitting on a stool during an interview, unaware that he’s about to see her again.

“Oh. Oh, boy. Oh, my God,” he mutters, paralyzed, before he stands up to completely embrace her.

Abuela Olga, touching his slimmed down abs: “ Estás precioso, papi, precioso.” (You’re so handsome).

When I saw the reunion playing out on the evening newscast under the urgent banner “Right Now,” I felt that heart-tug of familiar pain and loss — so personal to someone like me who never got to see her grandmother again after leaving Cuba as a child — and at the same time, so universal to anyone who has ever left behind a loved one.

But that was only a tiny clip.

The rest is Marlins reality marketing land.

This is no airport reunion with media in attendance. No, this is a Marlins-controlled product. It’s about how Loria made the impossible happen: He brought grandma from tyrannical Cuba — the feat of it all! — just in time for her to see the Marlins pitcher get his Rookie of the Year award.

Why, Loria gets to kiss abuela Olga before her grandson does!

And there’s innocent Fernández, being interviewed a la LeBron James when he had to make the fateful decision, Miami Dream Team vs. Cleveland.

What would his grandmother say if she could be here, an invisible interviewer asks?

“I don’t think she would be here,” Fernández laments.

Right on cue, Loria walks in holding grandmother’s hand, as if he were giving away a bride.

It’s a crass marketing ploy to vindicate Loria for many ills: Blackmailing Miami and county officials with fake threats of taking the team to San Antonio. Putting the area’s financial health at risk with a bad $600 million stadium deal, then getting rid of star players and treating fans to the worst season ever.

And who can forget the Ozzie Guillén fiasco, from which Loria obviously didn’t learn a thing?

Exactly what did Loria do to bring Fernández’s grandmother?

Nothing special.

Cubans were forbidden from freely traveling until last January’s reforms. Now any Cuban with a passport and U.S. visa can visit. Cuba is churning out passports, and the U.S. Interests Section is granting multiple-entry visitor visas. Fernández’s grandmother traveled like any other abuela. Only that her grandson, with a rookie starting salary of $495,000, can easily afford the paperwork and plane ticket.

So, Mr. Loria, here’s a Cubans 101 clip-and-save:

Don’t use the pathos of our exile for marketing purposes.

Stay way out of our politics.

Trust me on that one. Sometimes, we don’t even understand them ourselves.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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