ScoreBoardTX Interview: Eric Nadel’s Cuban Trip
Last Wednesday President Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. It was a historic day for the island nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, and included a swap of political prisoners. And, get this…our good friend, Baseball Hall-of-Famer and the voice of the Texas Rangers, Eric Nadel, was there when it all went down.
ScoreBoardTX: So Eric, what exactly were you doing in Cuba last week? You certainly picked an amazing time to be there.
Eric Nadel: Since US citizens are prohibited by our government from visiting Cuba as tourists, I put together an educational people-to-people trip to study Cuban baseball. Using Insight Cuba tour company, we had 18 people take the trip. We went to baseball games at all levels — 12 & under, 18 & under and professional major league (National Series) games in a few different cities. We also had meetings with Cuban sports officials, sportswriters and sportscasters, coaches and managers and retired players. We stayed in a great hotel and traveled in a tourist bus, with an American guide and a Cuban guide.
SB: Baseball wise, what was the highlight of your trip?
EN: We had a cocktail party for some retired Cuban players, which was attended by Omar Linares, the best player in modern Cuban history, who some believe to have been the best third baseman ever to play the game — anywhere. I had seen him play but never met him. I interviewed him in front of our group, after which he presented me one of his signed jerseys and congratulated me for my induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If there was one person I had been hoping to meet on this trip, he was the one.
SB: Other than baseball related events, what did you do?
EN: We had amazing meals, both in government owned restaurants and paladars (restaurants owned by Cuban individuals and families). We visited several community centers, including a senior citizens day care facility, music conservatory, organic garden and various art projects. And we spent some time at Esquina Caliente (Hot Corner), an area of Havana’s Parque Central, where baseball fans gather throughout the day to debate hot baseball topics. At night, we went to jazz clubs and salsa clubs, leaving little time for sleep.
SB: What was the biggest challenge of a trip like this?EN: All of our group activities had to be approved and arranged by Cuban government officials. Some were pre-approved, but when it came to making final arrangements, if they fell through we had to make changes on the fly. Fortunately our guides had so many contacts they were always able to come up with a great substitute activity. Game times in Cuba are very flexible, to say the least. One game in Pinar del Rio (a two hour drive from Havana) was changed the night before from 1pm to 7pm. As our bus driver was not allowed to make that drive at night, we had to abandon plans to attend the game. Instead, we had additional meetings with the managers of the two teams and visited a Cuban casa particular, which is a private home that is being rented out to tourists as part of Cuba’s new expansion of private enterprise.
SB: What was the reaction in Havana to the news of the prisoner swap and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations?
EN: People I spoke to were joyful over the return of the three Cuban prisoners, as everyone there believes them to have been innocent of the charges against them. Reaction to the normalization of diplomatic relations received a very positive but more guarded response. Some I talked to were ecstatic, while others were more cautiously optimistic that this alone would lead to significant improvement in their lives without the end of the embargo. There weren’t exactly people dancing in the streets, but there was a lot of celebratory horn honking and flag waving. And when the prisoners returned and were driven through downtown Havana, crowds gathered and cheered wildly.
SB: So what is your personal take on Obama’s announcements? Thumbs up or down?
EN: I think it’s a great step in the right direction. I believe our policy toward Cuba has been a total failure and has become an archaic absurdity. Quite frankly, it hasn’t worked. There is no chance the communist regime in Cuba will be overthrown. The best thing we can do is try to help the impoverished Cuban people, by making it possible for more food and goods to get to the island. And I believe that flooding the island with Americanism, as we did in Eastern Europe, will make the Cuban public more aware of how the rest of the world lives and will make them less dependent on their government. Cuba has already made significant changes to their economy, allowing many different types of private businesses. A loosening of the embargo will help these new businesses thrive, further lessening the hold the government has over the people.
SB: As always Eric, thank you for your time.
EN: My pleasure!