With MLB in Cuba it’s hard to avoid political landmines

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Major League Baseball — and President Obama and ESPN and large parts of the sports media industrial complex — are in Cuba this week. They’re there for an historic game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team tomorrow which is serving as the opening ceremonies, more or less, of a thawing relationship between the United States and Cuba.

But while this marks a whole new chapter in both the world of baseball and international relations, and while everyone is adopting the language of reconciliation and rebirth, there are still a lot of potential rhetorical landmines. For example, how does one refer to Cuba’s no-longer-ruling but still-living dictator, Fidel Castro?

Baseball has gotten into controversy with this in the past. Or at least one guy in it did. A few years ago, just weeks into his tenure as the Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen. found himself in hot water when he was quoted saying that he has “love” for Castro and respected that he stayed in power for so long. That kind of sentiment does not fly in Miami, home to thousands upon thousands of refugees from the Castro regime and orders of magnitude more of their relatives and descendants. Guillen was forced to apologize and there’s a good argument to be made that his managerial stint with the Marlins was doomed from that moment on as a result.

So, the lesson for baseball: be careful with your praise of Fidel Castro.

Unless you’re in Cuba, of course, in which case you need to be careful of your condemnation. ESPN learned that over the weekend when, as a part of its multi-platform coverage of the Cuban trip, it tweeted out a promo referring to Castro as a “savior and scourge” and mentioning his “love for sports.” The tweet, since deleted and apologized for, likely didn’t please ESPN’s hosts in Cuba due to the “scourge” language. At the same time, the “savior” bit and his reference of his “love of sports” probably didn’t make victims of Castro’s brutality and repression feel too cheerful. “Oh, really? He loved sports? Well, in that case I’m no longer upset that my family was destroyed and I had to leave my homeland . . .”

ESPN was transparent about the change, and I don’t envy them being in the position they’re in. After more than 50 years of cold war, the beginnings of normalization are going to be fraught with sensitive feelings and diplomatic dilemmas. It’s a fact that ESPN (and baseball and all things U.S.) is an invited guest in Havana and that the Castros and their allies still run Havana. Some level of . . . diplomacy is required. At the same time, to tell the story of Cuba and Cuban sports accurately, which is a big part of what ESPN is there to do, requires that one be honest about history. That honesty requires seeing Castro for what he was and is just as it requires seeing the U.S. and the Soviets and everyone else who had an impact on Cuban history for what they were and are. That goes for the bad and the good, however one wishes to characterize those things. It’s a thorny as hell task, I am sure.

History has shown that sports are a great tool of diplomacy. Sports networks aren’t quite as well-suited for it. At least if they want to avoid controversy of some kind, which they always, always do.

Padres clinch NL wild-card spot during 2-1 loss to White Sox

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Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres are going back to the playoffs for the first time in a full season since 2006, a spot that they clinched during the seventh inning of a 2-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.

The Padres were batting when the Miami Marlins beat the Milwaukee Brewers in 12 innings. The sellout crowd of 41,407 at Petco Park stood and cheered the sealed wild-card spot.

The Padres trailed 2-0 at the time but Kim Ha-seong homered a few minutes later.

The Padres had a chance to win in the ninth when they put two runners on with two outs against Liam Hendriks but pinch-hitter Jorge Alfaro, who has five walk-off plate appearances this year, grounded out.

Fireworks went off and the Padres players were given hats and shirts, but there was no wild on-field celebration. Manager Bob Melvin was drenched with a cooler of water and the players gathered near the mound for photos. They were cheered by what was left of the crowd as they headed to the clubhouse.

San Diego is one game ahead of Philadelphia for the second of three NL wild cards.

The Padres won a wild-card series against St. Louis after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before being swept in the division series by the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Before that, they hadn’t been to the playoffs since winning the NL West in 2005 and 2006.

It’s the seventh playoff berth in franchise history and the fourth since Petco Park opened in 2004. The Padres haven’t been to the World Series since 1998, when they were swept by the New York Yankees.

The Padres reached the playoffs this year without electrifying shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who was on the cusp of returning from a broken left wrist when he was suspended for 80 games by MLB on Aug. 12 for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Slugger Manny Machado has carried the Padres most of the season offensively and they added Juan Soto from Washington in a blockbuster deal on Aug. 2.

The Padres hired the veteran Melvin after last year’s brutal September collapse cost Jayce Tingler his job.

Lance Lynn (8-7) and Blake Snell 8-10) were locked in a scoreless duel Sunday when Elvis Andrus homered off the San Diego lefty with one out in the sixth, his 16th. His shot reached the top balcony of the brick warehouse in the left field corner at Petco Park.

The White Sox went ahead 2-0 on Adam Engel‘s two-out single in the seventh that brought in Andrew Vaughn, who had drawn a leadoff walk.

San Diego got on the scoreboard when Kim homered to left off Lynn with two outs in the seventh, his 11th.

Lynn allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, struck out five and walked one.

Snell allowed one run and three hits in six innings, struck out six and walked one.

UP NEXT

White Sox: RHP Bailey Ober (2-3, 3.18 ERA) is scheduled to start Monday at home against the Minnesota Twins, who will counter with Johnny Cueto (7-10, 3.39).

Padres: RHP Joe Musgrove (10-7, 3.03) gets the start Monday night at home against the San Francisco Giants, who will go with Carlos Rodon (14-8, 2.88).