1999 Baltimore Orioles-Cuban National Team Exhibition Series

From BR Bullpen

The 1999 Baltimore Orioles - Cuban National Team Exhibition Series consisted of two match-ups between the 1999 Baltimore Orioles and Cuban national team. It was the first time that the Cuban national team had faced a squad composed solely of major league players. The games were split, each team winning once, with one game taking place in Cuba and one in the USA. They were the result of three years of lobbying by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, coupled with a more lenient foreign policy by USA President Bill Clinton. It was the first time a major league team traveled to Cuba since 1959, the embargo on trade with Cuba voted by the U.S. Congress, and the dismantling of Cuba's professional teams having led to a long freeze in relations with Major League Baseball.

The first game took place at the historic Estadio Latinoamericano on March 28th. With Fidel Castro, Bud Selig and Angelos behind home plate and 55,000 in attendance, the O's squeaked to a 3-2 win. José Ibar gave up a two-run homer to Baltimore C Charles Johnson early. José Contreras relieved Ibar in the 2nd and blanked Baltimore for eight innings on two hits and ten strikeouts. Cuba scored once in the 7th and once in the 8th (when legendary Omar Linares drove in José Estrada) to force extra innings. In the 11th, though, Harold Baines singled off Pedro Luis Lazo to bring in Will Clark with the winner for Baltimore. Jesse Orosco got the save in the bottom of the inning, while 2B Jesse Garcia helped him out with two fine defensive plays.

In the second game, on May 3rd at Camden Yards, 48,000 fans turned out. Both Contreras and Scott Kamieniecki were knocked out in the 2nd inning as Cuba rolled to a 12-6 romp. SS Danel Castro went 4 for 4 with two triples, Linares reached base six times and DH Andy Morales drilled a three-run homer. Norge Luis Vera was the game's lone effective hurler, blanking Baltimore for over six innings. Unlike the well-behaved Havana crowd for the first game, the Baltimore game was interrupted by protesters, one of whom ran onto the field and had to be thrown to the ground by a Cuban umpire. Former national team pitcher Rigoberto Betancourt, who accompanied the team from Cuba as a guest, defected during the visit.

No major league team would return to Cuba until the historic visit of President Barack Obama to the island in March 2016, when the Tampa Bay Rays were selected by lottery to represent Major League Baseball in another exhibition game against the Cuban national team.

Cuban Roster[edit]

Sources: 2000 Baseball Almanac, A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman, Cubancards.com