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On The Streets Of Little Havana

April 13, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 177

It was about four hours before game time when I learned about the parking issue at the Miami Marlins' new ballpark.

I was taking my mother and my cousin, both of whom are well up in years, to see their beloved New York Yankees play the Marlins in an exhibition game last Monday. The two teams had met the previous afternoon in the first game ever played at Marlins Park, but that was on a Sunday, when rush hour traffic is not a factor and the streets of Little Havana, where the new park sits, are usually deserted. The team also limited attendance at that first game to 25,000, well below the park's capacity of about 37,000 spectators, to mitigate any opening-day problems.

The Monday night game would be a sellout. To avoid Miami's notorious traffic, I picked up my relatives at around 4:30 p.m. and scooted down the HOV lane on Interstate 95, then took side streets to get within a few blocks of the ballpark and its adjoining garages.

That's where the parking problem came in. Those garages can hold about 6,000 cars, which is not enough to accommodate a sellout crowd, especially since the stadium sits a long way from Miami's Metrorail system. And those 6,000 parking spaces are all assigned in advance, mostly to season ticket holders, the rest to those who know enough to buy parking passes before the day of the game. I did not.

I went to the team's website earlier in the afternoon to find out where to park, only to discover that there was no room. The Marlins had identified another 3,000 or so spaces in private parking lots and garages, but some of those were more than a mile away from the gates. There would be shuttles, but I was certain they would be crowded before and after the game, and I did not want to drag my elderly relatives along or leave them alone while I dealt with the parking.

The only other option was to park on side streets. This was a tradition at the old Orange Bowl, the football venue that was torn down for the new park, and which had only 3,000 parking spaces to accommodate even larger crowds. Being new to the Miami area, I was about to experience this custom for the first time.

I dropped off my passengers near the ballpark gates, drove a few blocks and turned onto a residential street of small, neat homes. Adults stood in front of every house, waving people toward driveways or lawns where the cars could be jammed within inches of one another. Few of the adults spoke English, but many brought out their children - teens and even younger - to translate. Everyone was smiling. The going rate was about $25. Parking at the stadium, if you could get it, was $15.

A young father waved me into a spot. Then he had me back out and pull closer to the car next to me. Then closer still. I paid him and turned to walk around the block back toward the stadium, but he motioned me toward an adjoining alley. It was a good shortcut. By using it, I was as close to the stadium door as I might have been had I parked at some of the ballpark's own spaces.

Little Havana is the community that received the first wave of refugees after Fidel Castro led the communist takeover of Cuba in 1959. Most of those early migrants have since moved on to more upscale districts in Miami-Dade County, where they and their children today form the backbone of the local political and business communities. The early emigres were followed by later emigrants from Cuba, but also a large number from Central and South America. Today's Little Havana is a Latin American melting pot, not well-to-do, but a hard-working, family-oriented place. It must have a special significance to the Cuban families who have passed through, for whom it was a launching pad for their American dream, or maybe a Cuban-American dream of someday re-establishing ties to a politically free homeland.

So it was galling when Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins' new manager, who comes from Venezuela, was quoted by Time magazine this week saying he loves Castro and speaking admiringly of the way he has held power (succeeded by his brother Raul Castro) for the past 50 years. The way Castro held power happens to have been at the point of a gun while backed by an elaborate police state, a puppet judiciary and a large cast of political prisoners.

Guillen has since learned the error of his ways. The Marlins summoned him back from Philadelphia, where his team was playing this week, suspended him for five games, and put him in front of the news media at the new ballpark, where the manager spent more than an hour apologizing profusely in both Spanish and English. There are still loud calls for Guillen's dismissal, while others in Miami seem willing to let him take his punishment (which will cost him about $150,000, to be donated to charity) and try to make amends.

There are a lot of Cubans and Cuban-Americans in major league baseball. Guillen could have asked any of them whether there is anything lovable about Fidel Castro. He could have asked his own team's all-star first baseman, Gaby Sanchez, whose parents are Cuban emigres. He could even have asked himself. Guillen makes about $2.5 million a year managing the Marlins. They have baseball in Cuba, and Comandante Fidel would surely give Guillen a job. The pay isn't as good, but Cuba does, after all, offer free medical care.

Cuban ballplayers have risked their lives in small boats on dangerous seas, seeking to defect. As far as I know, nobody has yet tried to get to the island nation in order to play on, or manage, a baseball team there. Guillen could be the first. As a Venezuelan, Guillen is free to ply his trade there if he wishes. But he chose to make his home and his living in Miami, and then announce to the world his admiration for Castro.

Galling. But out there on the streets of Little Havana, I expect they have better things to do than worry about Ozzie Guillen's political opinions. There are jobs to do, kids to raise and, at least when Marlins Park sells out, parking spaces to fill.

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