Baseball, Cuba's National Sport

 

Cuban Baseball / Tourism

Many of the tourists drawn to Cuba are from Canada, and thus share a respect for and knowledge of the game of baseball.  Tourists from other countries may not know the rules, and nuances of the game, but they can appreciate the atmosphere in the stadiums, and quickly pick up the basics of the game.  The game is played at a very high level of expertise in Cuba, and it is well worth making the effort to get to take in a National Series game or two while you stay.

The demand for going to the games in the Holguin province resorts, have created a niche for the Tour Companies, who now offer at most resorts a "Home Run" tour.  This in 2008 cost 30 CUC for travel to the stadium in an air conditioned coach, a tee shirt with the team name, and tickets (with a guide) to sit in the much desired home plate seating.  Games often have 10,000 - 20,000 fans, and they cheer and enjoy the game with a passion that is not rivaled even in the major league baseball games.  The seating for the average Cuban citizen is just pennies, however to sit in the cordoned off area where tourists (and some Cubans) site the cost is 3 CUC.  

The author is not aware of the excursion availability in other regions like Varadaro, Cayo Coco, and Havana, but surely asking at the front desk, or a tour rep will result in finding some way in which to take in this truly Cuban passion.  As one Cuban said, "Going to a game is not just about the game, but is a party, a festival!".  It truly is.  Fans cheer for both teams, equally, booing botched plays, and going crazy for extremely well played balls.  This was explained as being so because many of the players actually end up on the National Team or Olympic team, so every game is a sort of all-star game for the Cubans.  They know the names, stats, and foibles of the players and are eager to share that with tourists sitting nearby.

To see if games may be played in your area whilst you are vacationing check out the following link.

Baseball Cuba (this is the main page but navigating to find the schedule may be daunting so the following like is direct to the schedule (2007 - 2008 year)

National Series Schedule

 A little effort on your part will allow you to take part in a part of Cuban culture that is deeply held and revered.  

 

History of Baseball in Cuba

Baseball migrated south from the USA to Cuba most probably by sailors on trading vessels and visiting warship in the mid 1850-60.  The Cubans quickly adopted the game and were fast at becoming very adept at play.  Professional and semi professional leagues sprang up, mimicking the growth of the sport in the USA.  However; the sport took on much more meaning than simply a game when the Colonial overseers (the Spanish) banned the game in an attempt to force the Cuban people to embrace the Spanish pastime of bullfighting.  The efforts to ban the game simply turned playing the game into a form of revolt; of showing they were not Spanish.  Because baseball is a simple game at heart, the Cuban people could play it with sticks and balls and makeshift ‘fields’ of play.

When at the end of the revolution against Spanish Colonialism took place, the game again became a major part of Cuban social life.  Many Cubans went on to play in the major leagues, at a time when even Negro Americans were banned from playing.  (Indeed some Negro players did play in the major leagues before the so-called color barrier was broken, by claiming to be Cuban!). 

Like many Caribbean countries the games were played in the winter months, when it was unable to be played in the more northern USA.  So many teams in the American leagues sent players to play on teams in Cuba and other countries to hone skills or recover from injury.  Even big names from the MLB have played in Cuba for instance Tommy Lasorda.  For the Cuban people the game was more than a game, but still an expression of resistance to the rulers of before.  Hence the games were ‘events’ and still are today.

After Fidel Castro’s revolution, the game changed again in Cuba.  Still played by children and many towns and cities, it was no longer a profession, and obviously no more players from the USA came to play.  In 1961, the government introduced a program of “athletic endeavor” meant to recruit youngsters with promise in all sports and hone their skills.  Baseball was one such sport.  The National Series was created, originally with only 4 teams, playing a series of game in the dead of winter, with the best of the players being selected for competition outside of the country.  It was not until the late 1980’s that real chances for Cubans to play outside of the country took place, with World Championship caliber games played in the Caribbean.  Many Cuban players have “defected” or legally left Cuba to go to the USA and play in the big leagues.  They are frequently ‘star’ players in the big leagues, which attests to the high caliber of play in the Cuban system of baseball.  The National Series has now grown to 16 teams in 4 divisions, and they play 90 games, with a playoff and finally a championship game. 

For more information about the importance of baseball, and a more concise history of the game click on the following link! 

 Wikipedia's Entry on Cuban Baseball