Homerun Diplomacy

In Havana, America's pastime is Cuba's passion. Baseball fever runs hot. But on Sunday, when a team of Cuban all-stars faces the Baltimore Orioles, most agree it will be all politics, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

Not since the revolution in 1959, when a baseball fanatic named Fidel took over the country, has an American major league team set foot in Cuba. "No! It's not only a baseball game," says Cuban fan Carmen Canosa, "It's something more. It's friendship, it's new relations."

For people here, it's the World Series and a U.N. summit all rolled into a 3-hour ballgame.

But Castro made it clear he will personally choose who attends. Tickets to Sunday's game will be by invitation only. That means all 50,000 fans will be loyal Communist party supporters.

And for loyal baseball fans - like the men who gather everyday in Havana's Central Park just to discuss baseball - Sunday's invitation-only list is one more snub and one more sign of a life they dare not challenge.

The protesting is left to friends and relatives in South Florida, who are angry over recent crackdowns on dissidents opposed to Cuba's single party rule.

Yale professor Roberto Gonzalez wrote a book on Cuban baseball. He sees only one winner in Sunday's game. "If Castro shows up, for example, and appears as the benevolent ruler who likes sports, he would be scoring a propaganda hit of his own," Echevarria says.

The Orioles had to fly in their own fans - 100 or so kids from Baltimore and Washington D.C. They'll have box seats to history.

After arriving, the youngsters played a pick-up game with a group of Cuban kids. For them, baseball is still just a game, but even they understand the significance of the landmark sports exchange. "Cuba and America, they don't have a real good relationship," says Anthony Brown, an American 8th grader. "So I'll do my best on the field."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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