Boston Haitian Reporter
When I emailed last May�s column in to the Boston Haitian Reporter, I added:�my November column is going to be on the World Series victory, so please put me down for the BHR’s spot in the media seats at Fenway. I checked the mail faithfully, but despite the six months� notice, the tickets never arrived. But I�ll keep my promise about the November column.
The challenge is finding connections between the Red Sox and Haiti.
When I moved to Haiti in 1995, I was surprised to find no one playing baseball in a country with 12 months of good baseball weather. I knew that elsewhere in Latin America there was a direct relationship between U.S. military interventions and baseball. Countries that have suffered many interventions, such as Nicaragua (8), Panama (7), Cuba (4) and the neighboring Dominican Republic (4) produce many ballplayers. I also knew that Haiti had suffered the longest of these interventions (1915-1934), and that major league baseballs were made in Port-au-Prince�s factories.
After embarrassing myself in a�futbol (soccer) game one hot afternoon, I asked a Haitian friend why we could not play a much more relaxing game of baseball like they did in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola�with Haiti, or nearby Cuba. He talked first about how footballwas such a better game, then he politely mentioned the U.S. interventions. When I mentioned the other intervention victims that had embraced baseball, he replied, proudly, �that is why ours was the longest. The Americans could occupy our land, but not conquer our heads. We would not play their games, in sports or politics. We resisted longer than anyone else, so they kept trying. But eventually we won, and they left.�
Even if Haitians loved baseball, they would not root for the Red Sox- at least not yet. In football, Haitians support perennial winners, especially Brazil — winners of five World Cup championships, and the only team to qualify for every World Cup final tournament. Whenever Brazil played a World Cup match, I could keep score in Haiti without the TV or radio, just by listening to the cheers and sighs of the neighborhood. When Brazil won the Cup in 2002, the party on the streets outside my house seemed more jubilant than the party televised from Rio de Janeiro. Brazil reliably provides its fans with cause for celebration.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, had not won baseball�s World Series from 1918 (three� years after the start of the Occupation) until after I left Haiti in 2004, a span of 86 years. Along the way, the team found so many ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory that it was widely believed to be subject to The Curse. After reading in Haiti about one particularly inexcusable Sox loss, it occurred to me that being a Red Sox fan was a luxury: you could only afford to emotionally invest in a team that was bound to disappoint you if other things in your life were going pretty well. Like most luxuries, this was one that few people in Haiti could afford: life in Haiti is just too full of imposed heartbreaks and difficulties for people to voluntarily expose themselves to more disappointment. The opportunities to celebrate in daily life are so few and far between, that you cannot wait 86 years between your team�s championships.
In the fall of 2004, seven months after Haiti�s latest coup d��tat, I was back in the U.S. But Haiti�s heartbreak kept coming through in emails, telephone calls and news reports. Several friends and colleagues were rotting in Haitian jails�as political prisoners, many more were in hiding. Two former clients had been killed; many had lost all their possessions. I was too busy trying to respond to these disasters to watch much baseball, but as the Red Sox made it into the second round of the playoffs, I started watching parts of games, and getting excited.
Then the Red Sox lost the first three games of the best-of-seven playoffs with the rival Yankees. During one of those games, I started to get sad, and then realized that I just could not get sad about baseball. There was just too much other sadness in my life, and I could not afford the risk of more disappointment. So I disengaged, and stopped caring whether the team won or lost.
The Sox, of course, then made one of the most dramatic comebacks in sports history. They won four straight games to eliminate the Yankees, then four more to win the World Series. Most Red Sox fans were elated. I was happy, but not elated. When I disengaged to limit the potential sadness from a loss, I also limited the potential exhilaration from a victory.
In 2007, there is still heartbreak in Haiti. Children still go to bed without dinner and wake up with no school to go to. Adults are still wrongfully imprisoned, people of all ages die of the preventable and treatable diseases of poverty. All this while Haiti pays $56 million a year to the World Bank and other “poverty-fighting” banks, mostly to�repay loans made to brutal dictators. Afriend and colleague, human rights activist�Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, has been missing since he was abducted on August 12. But the systematic political repression has stopped, and with a democratic government in place for 18 months, there are tangible improvements. Even better, there�s hope for even more improvement.
So this year I jumped more solidly onto the Red Sox bandwagon. When the team was down again (this time 3-1), I did not disengage, but I did find comfort and wisdom in the words of slugger Manny Ramirez, who said of a�potential loss “there’s always next year. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.” Those words generated a controversy that I did not understand. Mr. Ramirez is a great player who played great throughout the playoffs, so could not be accused of giving up. He has also seen enough of life to know more about the difference between sports disappointments and real disappointments than most of his critics. Although he is now wealthy- he made $17 million this year playing baseball- he was born poor in the Dominican Republic (like Sox teammates David Ortiz and Julio Lugo). He saw the U.S. style of hardship growing up in a poor neighborhood in New York. Mr. Ramirez undoubtedly has friends and family members who are as vulnerable to misfortune as are many people in Haiti. (He, along with teamate David Ortiz and former teammate Pedro Martinez,�were recognized for their help follwoing floods in 2004 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He’s also starting his own�foundation to help kids).
I am now looking forward to a day when Haitians can embrace the Red Sox. The 1915-34 occupation will remain a hurdle: the�U.S.-sponsored kidnapping of Haiti’s elected President in 2004 did not help anyone forget those memories. But Haitians do play and watch basketball, another game invented in the U.S. The Red Sox, having now won two of the last four World Series, appear to be approaching reliability- they will not win them all, but they will at least win their share, and maybe more. So rooting for the Red Sox will not be the mental health risk it once was.
But I really look forward to a day when Haitians have the luxury of rooting for a team that can break their hearts. A day when fans can go to sleep after a loss, disappointed but comfortable in a good bed in a secure� house. When the next morning the kids are dragging a little, it will be from their team losing or the lateness of the game rather than from an empty stomach. A day when the prospect of regular food and medical treatments makes �there’s always next year,� possible, and a safe trip to a good school makes �it’s not like it’s the end of the world� easy to say.
Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti,www.HaitiJustice.org. He lived in Haiti from 1995-2004.