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Fernando De Armas and Bobby Ross Jr. pose for a photo in Matanzas, Cuba.
Inside Story
Photo by Tim Archer

A baseball blessing in Cuba

Not praying for Texas Rangers' wins, but thanking God for them anyway.

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MATANZAS, Cuba — I crouched in anticipation as I stared at the TV.

In a dark room with no air conditioning, I ignored the sweat dripping down my face and focused on the screen.

A weather warning? A breaking news alert? Nope, a different kind of drama captured my attention.

A postseason baseball game.

Related: Keeping the faith: Texas Rangers win the World Series

With a 3-2 count and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, my team’s closer hurled a 98 mph fastball. The batter swung and foul tipped the pitch into the catcher’s mitt. 

Strike three!

I pumped my fist in the air as I celebrated.

In a ballpark 1,000 miles from this Caribbean island, my beloved Texas Rangers had won the first game of the American League Championship Series, defeating the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, 2-0.

I was excited not just to see the Rangers take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series but to get to watch the game at all. When I traveled to this socialist nation in the middle of the Major League Baseball playoffs, I expected extremely limited internet access and no cable TV.

In previous columns, I’ve detailed my long-suffering affection for the Rangers. 

Related: For love of God, family and baseball

At age 14, my family moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, and I attended my first major-league game on “Bat Day” at the old Arlington Stadium. As 10,000 wooden bats banged thunderously against the concrete and the greenest grass I had ever seen beckoned me that Saturday afternoon, a young lifetime of rooting for the Cincinnati Reds suddenly vanished.

The Rangers became my team — and they have remained so for 42 seasons, with many more downs than ups.

All these years later, I still hang on most every pitch. I constantly text back and forth with my sons, my parents and my friends about the highs and lows of individual games. My level of couch-potato intensity inspired my wife, Tamie, to dub me “the fanager.”

So when the opportunity arose to travel to Cuba in mid-October, I first checked the baseball calendar. With my Rangers expected to make the postseason for the first time in years, I realized the trip might mean missing up to four playoff games.

I’ll be honest: I was torn.

Related: A heavenly day at the ballpark

But really, the decision was not too difficult: Stay home to watch a kids’ game on TV? Or go report on God’s people in a country facing myriad challenges — from fuel shortages to power blackouts to a lack of food and medicine? (Read my Cuba story.)

Astros fan David Duncan and Rangers fan Bobby Ross Jr. enjoy trading barbs during the baseball season.

Astros fan David Duncan and Rangers fan Bobby Ross Jr. enjoy trading barbs during the baseball season.

“I had no choice,” I joked to my friend David Duncan, preaching minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, after booking my flight. “I may miss the Rangers, but they’d automatically lose if I stayed home instead of doing the Lord’s work.”

“Wow, I have so many thoughts,” quipped Duncan, a fan of the rival Astros. “Some of them are evil, and I’m trying to feel remorse for them.”

I laughed, as I often do when trading barbs with my friend.

Fast-forward to the time for my trip: I had arranged to meet Tim Archer, director of international ministry for Herald of Truth, and fly out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. 

My drive to the Metroplex coincided with Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Rangers. So a high school friend, Rick Kalifa, and I bought tickets to the Tuesday night game before I left early Wednesday.

We cheered and screamed from cushioned seats in Section 111 as the Rangers beat the Orioles, 7-1, to sweep the best-of-five series and advance to the ALCS. 

Bobby Ross Jr. and friend Rick Kalifa at Game 3 of the American League Division Series in Arlington, Texas.

Bobby Ross Jr. and friend Rick Kalifa at Game 3 of the American League Division Series in Arlington, Texas.

Two of the games I thought I might miss while in Cuba would not be necessary. Whew!

I thanked God for this blessing, even though I don’t believe in praying about sports outcomes. (Then again, I might make an exception for the World Series!)

Related: 10 favorite baseball stories featuring members of Churches of Christ

The next morning, Archer and I enjoyed safe flights to Miami and then Varadero, Cuba, where minister Tony Fernandez picked us up at the airport.

Fernandez drove us to a bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Matanzas. 

When the B&B’s owner, Fernando de Armas, noticed the bright red “T” on my light blue polo shirt, he immediately struck up a conversation about the Rangers.

De Armas learned to speak English by listening to Miami Marlins games on the radio. He confided that he was rooting for the Astros because of their Cuban players — superstar slugger Yordan Álvarez and former American League MVP José Abreu.

I replied that Cubans are important players on the Rangers, too, including All-Star outfielder Adolis García and flame-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman.

I didn’t convert de Armas to Texas’ side, but I relished meeting a fellow baseball fan.

Fernando De Armas and Bobby Ross Jr. pose for a photo in Matanzas, Cuba.

Fernando de Armas and Bobby Ross Jr. pose for a photo in Matanzas, Cuba.

And I was ecstatic when my new friend assured me he knew where I could watch my team.

“You won’t miss a game in Cuba,” he assured me.

I thanked him profusely. 

I thanked God again, too, for the small blessings in life. And the big ones.

Matanzas, Cuba

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: American League Championship Series baseball Cuba Houston Astros Inside Story International major-league baseball National Opinion sports Texas Texas Rangers Top Stories World Series

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