Friday, May 31, 2013

Glorias del beisbol

Matt Benoit
Reporting from Havana 

If you’re a sports fan, one of the greatest highlights of going to Cuba is attending a Cuban baseball game.

In our time here, several members of our group were able to take in two games—the first and last in a three-game playoff series between Industriales, Cuba’s most successful baseball franchise, and Isla del la Juventud.

The games were held in Havana at Estadio Latinoamericano, the blue-hued home of Industriales. Outside the stadium, a large billboard frames Fidel Castro’s words between a Cuban flag and a baseball.

“El Triunfo estara en la suma del esfuerzo de todos,” it says; “The Triumph will be the sum of the efforts of all.”  

The place was built in 1946, and with the exception of an electronic scoreboard and a few TV cameras, it’s hard to tell what decade it is once you step inside.

The seating is mostly either fold-down wooden chairs or decaying wooden benches, and painted across the middle of the bright blue outfield bleachers are the vivid white words “Cuba, pais de campeones el deporte, conquista del la revolucion.” It means “Cuba, country of sports champions, conquest of the revolution.”

The sights, sounds and smells of Cuban baseball—a meandering vendor selling empanadas for a dollar; a chorus of vuvuzeula-like horns; a man sitting next to his rooster; the metallic thud of a foul ball landing on the stadium’s tin roof—are all well-worth the incredibly low 3-CUC ticket price.

At times, being here feels quite removed from the rich, slicked-back culture of modern American baseball, but despite vastly differing cultural and economic environments, it is still the same game at its core.

At one point, I bought an Industriales t-shirt and began wearing it around Havana. The shirt never failed to elicit enthusiastic responses from the Cuban men who noticed it, demonstrating a love for their favorite team and the sport in general.

The slideshow below showcases the sounds and images of two Cuban baseball games, plus a couple scenes outside the stadium—including La Esquina Caliente, Havana’s “Hot Corner,”—where citizens gather daily to argue about their nation’s pastime.

Playing and watching sports has long had the ability to bring disparate groups of people together, and here, I think, is another great example.

Cubans and Americans may live in fundamentally different worlds. They may speak in different tongues. But through baseball, they still share a common language.

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