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.

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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