Outta the Park

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

HAVANA TIMES, April 23 — Going onto the grounds outside the stadium of Havana’s “Metropolitanos” baseball team, a ball suddenly landed right next to me. It had apparently been batted out by the cleanup hitter for the capital’s “red team.”

Recovering from the jolt, I turned to pick up the ball that had come to a stop just feet from me. But it was too late – a flock of kids jumped on the Mizuno 200, and in a matter of moments the ball had a new owner.

I looked out of the corner of my eye for compassion in the gaze of anyone present. Later, some of the bystanders made me understand that to get balls outside the stadium, you had to have a lot of experience.

Having already accepted defeat, I focused back on at least watching to the end of the ball game.

But suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a throng of police charged the ball retrievers. The detachment was demanding the return of the Mizuno 200, the same one that a few minutes earlier had been within my grasp.

For a moment I thought I was about to witness an incident of police brutality. However, to my relieved surprise, nothing like that occurred.

It wasn’t because the kids faced the police attack with wisdom or responsibility. I could see that this was an ongoing grudge match. The police seemed to have their hands tied by the antics of the kids, as I didn’t perceive any fear in any of the boys there.

But things didn’t stay like that. Unexpectedly, the police initiated a new tactic. They decided to vacate the grounds outside the stadium.

“You’re punishing the wrong people,” shouted many of those present.

Once again, the police were confronted with a determined community spirit. Even the head of the law enforcement contingent looked confused. Without question, he accepted the indignation of the fans, but ultimately the evacuation order remained intact.

Within minutes, the grounds outside the Metros stadium erupted as an area of ??popular protest. I was left stunned, so much so that I failed to join in the popular onslaught against authoritarianism.

Each conceptual demand that came to my mind shot out from the lips of one or another of the fans there. At moments I felt at a disadvantage, as if I were someone who had weak political instincts.

From a distance, many of the neighborhood spectators continued to enjoy this parallel game.

Still, the Mizuno 200 youth remained unperturbed, preoccupied with awaiting another lucky catch. The head of the police officers approached them to remind them that they had caught enough balls, but from the defiant response from one of the kids, I understood that the “baseball” appetite of those kids was boundless.

When I got up that day, I had planned to enjoy a familiar sports experience, yet I ended up writing about civic and authoritarian culture. I had found myself doing next to nothing, though in the end I salvaged my honor by taking a few pictures and writing about what had happened.

It was a small sacrifice for someone who had just lost the opportunity to take his girlfriend a prestigious baseball as proof of the virtue of sports and the hearty support of our citizenry.