Building a bridge in US-Cuba relations – one Cubs fan at a time

By Randy Richardson

Cubs fans have always been among the most loyal in all of sports. Even through the worst of times, which accounted for most of those times, they’ve stuck with them. Their loyalty was finally rewarded this season, after an epic 108-year wait.

But surely those weren’t all die-hards rooting for the Cubs all the way to that dramatic and historic championship. There were plenty of bandwagon-jumpers, from Jenny McCarthy to Pope Francis.

The North Siders’ popularity has likely only grown more with player appearances on the The Ellen Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and SNL.

One of their new fans is Ronald Infante. Unlike all the other new fans, Ronald didn’t watch one game of the World Series. He didn’t see any of those post-victory TV appearances. In fact, he’s never seen a Major League Baseball game. Not even on TV.

Ronald lives in Havana, Cuba, an island in the Caribbean 90 miles south of Florida’s southern tip. Relations between Cuba and the United States have been strained since the early 1960s and have only recently begun to thaw. Americans still can’t go there as tourists, but recently have been allowed to visit under “people-to-people” diplomacy. That’s how I came to know Ronald.

On a recent visit to his beautiful and historic country, which coincidentally began the same day the Cubs ended their long World Series drought, Ronald served as my tour guide. By the end of my six days in Cuba, I called Ronald my friend – proof that “people-to-people” diplomacy works.

During my stay in Cuba, Ronald took me to a baseball game in Matanzas, where I saw the home team, the Crocodiles, shut out 3-0.

Cubans are passionate about baseball, and it showed when the home plate umpire and a fan, seated in the front row, exchanged heated words with one another over the umpire’s strike zone. I don’t understand Spanish, but I’m pretty sure that they weren’t making dinner plans for after the game. I did understand why they no longer sell beer in Cuban ballparks.

After the seventh inning, we went to look for a team hat, but there was no souvenir stand. No hay problemo. Our driver lassoed the home team’s equipment manager, mid-game, who came back with a Cuban National Team hat, which he sold to me for 20 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs).

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Ronald Infante

Before I returned to the states, I gave Ronald two Cubs T-shirts and a Cubs hat as a gift.

“Now I am a Cubs fan,” he said.

There are now several former Cubans playing in the MLB, including two that played for the Cubs’ championship team: Aroldis Chapman and Jorge Soler. Yet the Communist government does not broadcast MLB games. It is difficult for Cubans to get any news about the players who left their country for the much greener pastures of America. Our baseball is as foreign to them as theirs is to ours.

Ronald’s hope is that one day he will make it to the states, something that is still not easy for Cubans to do. Ronald has never seen any country other than his own.

One day my hope is to take Ronald to a baseball game at Wrigley Field, so that he can see what he’s been missing all these years.

“I’d like that,” he said. “It will happen. I know it will.”

Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation