—Early last Sunday morning, I got a call from my childhood friend Leslie. He said he’d be sure to come by in the afternoon to watch the baseball game between Cuba and South Africa.
Leslie is a real baseball aficionado, one of the few who I converse with on that subject. Baseball is also one of the few topics that we have in common. That’s why -in addition to the appreciation and affection that I have for him- baseball is what glues our friendship.
Leslie arrived when the game was about to begin. He’s very demanding of his team; he calls these times the “silver era,” because Cuba has finished in second place in the last couple major tournaments.
For Leslie, if they don’t come in first, “we’ve lost”. I explained to him that this idea, which is a feeling more than anything else, has been forming in our people since the triumph of the Revolution.
Brought to Cuba by colonists from the United States at the end of the 19th century, the sport took root quickly in our people. By 1959, it was the island’s most popular sport. Gradually baseball became a political problem, especially when we played against the US team.
There were difficult times in which baseball victories at the international level contributed to us forgetting our hunger and other needs.
Another influential element was that we faced amateur players, usually university-level players. We were also proud of having the best baseball fans in the world, and there were few tournaments in which we didn’t take first place.
With the opening up of the big international competitions to professionals, we discovered many truths: like we were not the best, although we are among them.
In baseball, as in all sports, there’s an elite. The same team doesn’t always win, but a squad belonging to that elite almost always does. This means that every time we’re in second place, we’re confirming our quality as a team within the world elite.
No matter how much I explain to this to him, Leslie doesn’t quite get it.