Play Ball, Havana Style

Remember those annoying vuvuzelas at the World Cup in South Africa that sounded like an angry swarm of killer bees in your ear? Well, add in three hours of drumming, trumpets blaring, and thirty thousand screaming fans, and you get a Cuban baseball game. It’s an experience that rivals European soccer matches, and it’s an essential part of Cuban culture.

Baseball is one of the national symbols of Cuba, and is the most popular Cuban sport.

Baseball is one of the national symbols of Cuba, and is the most popular Cuban sport.

I had the unique privilege of attending a game in Havana, Cuba last week between the Havana Industriales and the neighboring Pinar del Rio while studying in Cuba. The energy and excitement of the game reflected the same enthusiasm of the Cuban people themselves. Fans blew plastic horns, and the away team’s supporter section began drumming as soon as the national anthem was finished. Sure enough, as soon as the top of the first ended, the home team’s fans began drumming and cheering for their team in the bottom of the inning.

Baseball is a symbol of Cuba, athletically and culturally. Children find old wooden bats and patches of grass to play pickup games from an early age. Those children who are found to have considerable skill (like the group of Havana kids that gave our group of Elon University students a 4-0 drubbing) are then sent to special schools to perfect their skills on the field.

The Cuban National Series is the ultimate dream of Cuban baseball players. Made up of 17 teams, the league is formatted similarly to Major League Baseball, with one team representing each Cuban province. Players are not paid, but rather serve the Cuban government by playing baseball professionally. Perhaps the lack of money is why many Cuban players have defected to the United States. Players like Orlando “El Duke” Hernandez, Aroldis Chapman, and Yoenis Cespedes have risen through the Cuban National Series and have gone on to successful careers in Major League Baseball.

The fans at Cuban baseball games play are energetic, playing horns and drums each inning.

The fans at Cuban baseball games play are energetic, playing horns and drums each inning.

Cuban baseball isn’t exactly like going to Yankee Stadium. We sat in cramped wooden seats in an old, large stadium with cluttered concourses and concrete bleachers. But the most important aspects of baseball are displayed in Cuba: enthusiasm, competition, and sportsmanship. Each batter fist bumped the opposing catcher and the umpire before each at bat. Whenever a team scored, every player on the team came out of the dugout to congratulate him. And the fans didn’t hesitate to cheer loudly for their teams.

Cuban baseball embodies all the great aspects of the game millions of people around the world love. Kids from neighborhoods all over Cuba play Sandlot-style games to have fun, families come to watch, and the players compete like true professionals. If you ever have the chance to visit Cuba, take some time to visit a true Cuban baseball game. Just be prepared for a sporting experience you’ll never forget!

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One Response to Play Ball, Havana Style

  1. Pingback: Team Cano vs. Team Wright in Home Run Derby | Front Office Sports

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