As many of you know, I'm a creature of habit.
I've eaten the same kinds of food (pizza, burgers, pasta), worn the same type of clothes (jeans, sweat shirts, baseball hats) and rooted for the same teams (Mets, Seahawks, Fighting Irish) since childhood.
My kids make fun of me mercilessly for it. My friends and co-workers try to trick me into changing things up, while my parents just shake their heads sadly and wonder where they went wrong.
My response is always the same: “Hey, I'm a simple man with simple tastes. I find something I like and stick with it.”
There's something to be said for tradition, folks. They're reliable, predictable and comforting.
And, one of my favorite traditions is the annual Spring Training sojourn I make each March.
On my way
I travel to Southwest Florida at the same time every winter.
I wait until the second week of March, fly out of Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport and arrive in Fort Myers right around noontime on March 10. Give or take 15 minutes.
Anyway, it's my favorite 10 days of the year … one small window of time during which I focus on myself. It's all about rest, relaxation and re-charging my batteries after a long season of wrestling matches and basketball games.
My parents spend their winters on the outskirts of Punta Gorda, a small town in Charlotte County that bears more than a passing resemblance to Honesdale.
I use their home as a base and travel to any of six Spring Training centers for Grapefruit League ballgames. The atmosphere is awesome … players, coaches, fans and team officials are laid back and eminently approachable.
There was a difference this year, though.
While my days were once again spent basking in the sun, sipping fruity umbrella drinks and breathing deeply of the Gulf Coast ocean air, there was a palpable buzz in the air.
The talk around Grapefruit League facilities still centered on baseball, but fans … especially those who live full time in Florida … were also fascinated with the subject of Cuba.
Now, for those of you out there who may have been hiding under a rock for the past half-century, here's the story in a nutshell.
America and Cuba cut off diplomatic ties during the height of the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis and The Bay of Pigs fiasco drove what appeared to be a permanent wedge between the two nations.
For 50 years, refugees from Castro's Communist regime tried desperately to reach our shores. They came by ship, rowboat, even perched precariously on floating doors. Many of them died in the attempt.
As ESPN's Dan LeBatard (himself of Cuban descent) said on the air: “That water is filled with bodies.”
It's a tragedy that President Obama tried to address, if only symbolically, during his historic visit this week.
And, all Southwest Florida was abuzz as the two nations finally re-connected.
Americans and Cubans have many things in common, not the least of which is a passion for baseball.
Many Major League players (from the legendary Minnie Minoso to Yasiel Puig) defected from Cuba to play baseball in America.
Sadly, that love of our National Pastime wasn't enough to bridge the divide that loomed between our two countries. In fact, there have been just two MLB games played on the island since the 1950s.
The most recent took place in 1999. Before that … well, let's just say that the previous one featured a talented young second baseman for the Dodgers by the name of Robinson.
The President wisely used Americans' and Cubans' love of baseball as common ground during his visit. He brought his family and an entourage that included Jackie Robinson's widow, who was treated like royalty.
They all attended an exhibition contest between Tampa Bay and the Cuban National Team.
The Rays won by a score of 4-1, but the unifying spirit of baseball prevailed among a packed house at Estadio Latinamericano.
And, the world noticed.
In my opinion, this marked a pivotal moment in Cuban-American relations.
Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that a single baseball game can erase decades of suffering. However, I am optimistic enough to believe in the power of simple symbols.
After seeing the powerful connection between Cuba and Florida, I'm convinced that a new tradition should be instituted. MLB squads and the Cuban National Team should play a home & away series each year.
While diplomats work in Washington and Havana, baseball ambassadors can be attending to the grassroots movement.
I've spent a big chunk of my adult life covering baseball games and I've witnessed firsthand the power of sports to transcend. It's especially evident with children, who are pure and innocent enough to welcome anyone into the game regardless of race, color, creed or nationality.
So, from Wayne County to Charlotte County and onward to Havana, here's hoping a new baseball tradition has been born … one that unites rather than divides and promises a hopeful, peaceful future.