BASEBALL IN CUBA
CUBA'S BASEBALL ROOTS RUN DEEP!
The roots of Cuban baseball run almost as deep as those of the United States. The game was introduced to the island by young Cubans who had attended college in the United States in the late 1800’s. By the turn of the century baseball was the most popular sport on the island, and it drew Cubans and Americans together. Some of the earliest foreign players to participate in what would eventually become the major leagues were from Cuba. This is open to debate, but the first Latin Americans to play it what could be considered major league ball was Cuban Esteban Bellan. To this day Cuban players continue to excite on the in Major Leagues, this post-season put the spotlight on Cuban players Yasiel Puig and Yulieski Gurriel. Other current Cuban players include Arnoldis Chapman, Jose Abreu, Yunel Escobar, Jose Iglesias, and of course the Marlins’ All Star and 2013 Rookie of the Year, Jose D. Fernandez. Cuban players who left their mark on the majors include Rogelio Alvarez, Luis Tiant, Barbaro Garbey, Eusebio Gonzalez, Jackie Hernandez, and World Series winner Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.
There are currently sixteen Cuban teams in the Cuban major leagues, and the season runs from August to January. Though the stadiums are in bad shape, any American travelling to the island during the fall or winter should try to attend a game. Conditions in the stadiums vary widely across the island, but the crowds and the Cuban style of playing is very interesting. If you happen to speak Spanish, you will enjoy it even more when you hear the insults that are hurled at visiting teams.
The Havana Industirales, the Cuban equivalent of the New York Yankees, have won twelve league championships since 1962, and can usually be counted on to field a strong team. In Havana’s stadium alcohol sales were prohibited a few years ago, but the crowd and the game will keep you entertained. The Matanzas Crocodiles have one of the nicer stadiums, and the beautiful beaches of Varadero are just minutes away. Every province in Cuba has its own team, so when you plan your trip to Cuba be sure to leave an opening in your schedule for a Cuban baseball game.
By Frank Gonzalez