It’s a tale of two countries: two representatives meeting, two governments attempting to renew relations, and two incredibly different cultures trying to find new ways not only to communicate, but to relate.
Baseball may have started out as America’s national pastime, but it’s now a force of globalization—and common ground. Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba is breaking political ground and pioneering normalized relations between the two disparate countries, and one of the most significant stops on the President’s itinerary is a baseball game. After all, baseball diplomacy is the best diplomacy.
In a clash of cultures, it’s important to focus on the commonalities, and as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy international security advisor, tweeted, “we all share a love of baseball.” And so, for the first time since the Baltimore Orioles traveled to Havana in 1999, the Major League is coming to Cuba. Alongside Raúl Castro, President Obama will watch a sport beloved by both countries as the Tampa Bay Rays play the Cuban National Team. Obama’s hoping his trip will punch more holes in the economic embargo, further promote human rights and the Cuban people’s quality of life, and cement economic ties. The President is also hoping that approaching politics from the passion of baseball - and possibly some peanuts and cracker jacks - foments democracy in the midst of Cuban reality.
Obama’s baseball outing is one of the more fixed features of his Cuban itinerary, along with meeting with Cuban dissidents and avoiding Fidel Castro. However, there remains a lot of “maybe he will, maybe he won’t” on his agenda. Hopefully his time in Havana won’t be all work and no play, so, while we don't expect to see Obama kayaking through the waters of the Bay of Pigs (as one would do on our Cuba Unbound tour!), let’s speculate on Obama’s experience in the island's seductive capital.
A guy has got to eat, so Obama will probably find his way to a paladar, one of Cuba’s privately-owned restaurants, to enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine with a side of economic independence. Although the President and his administration has been assured that their government-administered BlackBerries will work in Havana, they may feel like saving some of their data and visiting one of the internet hotspots that are beginning to pop up in the urban center. Obama might even interface with locals while seeking internet at a local park.
There might be some photo ops of Obama cruising the streets of Colonial Havana in the classic American cars whose shiny chrome and colorful wings still breathe of 1950s-era class. Although the word on the street is that Obama is trying to quit the habit, he also might indulge in a Cuban cigar or visit one of the city’s cigar factories. I know political discussions usually make me crave a drink, and so perhaps Obama will find his way to Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt, La Floridita, to sip on a mojito and reminisce about Cuba’s favorite American expat.
It remains to be seen what Obama will see, what people he’ll meet, and what changes in international policy will follow this historic trip. That being said, we can hope that Obama’s trip to the ballgame improves diplomatic relations as the two countries find common ground in a baseball diamond. At the very least, we can hope that it’s a great game.