How (and Why) Do I Love Cuba?…Let Me Count the Ways: Baseball

I live in a country that is very cold for 6 months of the year, cold enough that much of the water surfaces freeze over and for some inexplicable reason residents desire to leave their warm homes, strap steel blades on to their feet and chase a black puck on said ice with sticks. Even when it warms up, they head to cold indoor buildings to continue this strange obsession. This obsession is called hockey and it seems as if no other country in the world could be more obsessed about a sport than Canada is about hockey (in case you haven’t caught on, I’m NOT one of the obsessed). That’s because you haven’t talked to Cubans about baseball.

1939 Cuban national team
1939 Cuban national team

Cubans have been obsessed with baseball for over 150 years when the sport was brought by Cuban students returning from colleges in the United States and American sailors who ported in the country. Cubans embraced baseball as a reaction to the sports their Spanish conquerors foisted on them. Playing baseball for Cubans was a ‘revolutionary’ act! Professional leagues developed over the decades and the fervour only deepened after the country found its independence and after the revolution in 1959 the leagues continued but as ‘amateur’ as professional leagues were against the manifesto.

Cuban-Baseball-Teams-520x245

There are 16 provinces in Cuba with a team for each and the games, played in stadiums holding tens of thousands of fans from September to March are a large part of the average Cuban’s social fabric, with admission to games just pennies (or pesos for them). The games themselves can be loud, raucous affairs with great food and drinks.

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Our seats in Havana

I attended a game last year in Havana in which I sat in VIP seats next to the home dugout and met a couple of players (our cab driver who came to the game with us knew them) for, get this…$4.00! Here’s the catch: they’re not easy to get to. Schedules aren’t confirmed until literally a couple of weeks before the season begins, are in Spanish and are often unreliable. If you can pin down a game, you can’t just show up at the park as tourists need someone who knows people in order to 1) get you in and 2) wrangle the good seats. Unlike the resorts and hotels, no one will speak English so you’ll need a translator. I’m not trying to frighten you off but I am saying this, do your homework and you’ll have a blast.

guardalavaca
Boys playing in Guardalavaca

If you don’t want to brave the big leagues, there are pick up games being played in every available field no matter what the terrain or condition and by kids more talented then you’ll believe (think street hockey in Canada). Years ago my son and I had the pleasure of watching a group of 10 kids in Guardalavaca in the Holguin province playing a game in a ‘field’ that was cut off by a tree in mid left field (so there was no third base…they ran home from second!) and they had only 3 ‘gloves’ shared by the ten but they played like it was the World Series. As my son played ball on a travel team at the time, we had brought a half-dozen used balls to give out…needless to say this was one of those times and they were greatly appreciated.

I love the unbridled passion Cubans have for this game I love as well, a game of patience, skill and numbers…the ‘perfect game’.

 

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