Beisbol Diplomacy

True, last weekend's game between the Baltimore Orioles and a Cuban all-star team hardly represents a breakthrough in international relations. US policy toward Cuba, though loosened a bit of late, remains punitive. Cuba's policy toward Washington is defiant as ever.

But these positions are not immutable. The first visit by a major league team to Cuba in 40 years is not an everyday cultural exchange. Baseball is a passion on the island - with one of the most passionate fans Fidel Castro himself.

The Cuban leader was clearly pleased to host the event - though his all-stars finally went down in 11 innings. Average Cubans cheered the close contest. Few of them, however, got into the ballpark. Attendance was by invitation only.

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That fact is symptomatic of Mr. Castro's continuing game plan. He's a manager whose philosophy is overmanagement. It wouldn't work on a ball team, and it's a sure way to stifle a creative people. Castro's recent toughening of anti-dissent laws, and the jailing of four dissenters who called for more political openness, are sad evidence of the persistent gap between Cuba's hard-line Marxists and most of the rest of the world.

Control is a virtue in a pitcher. It can be a terrible vice in a government. May US-Cuba exchanges and contacts continue and grow, on the ball field and off. They can help more Cubans get a view of the bigger game.

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