By Robert Short
HAVANA TIMES, April 13 — As I was preparing for my first trip to Cuba, there were a few things that were on my “Absolutely Must Do” list. Drink a mojito, listen to some Cuban Jazz, smoke a Cohiba, and of course attend a Cuban League baseball game.
Being from the United States baseball has been part of my life since I was born. I remember going to games as a kid, rooting for my favorite players and watching the games on TV. Even today, I’m as big a baseball fan as I was then.
I had always heard that baseball was also as big a part of life in Cuba, if not more so, as it is in the US. So it was incredibly intriguing for me to watch a Cuban League game. Not just to see the game, but the whole experience of it. Mostly seeing the crowd and how they cheered on their team, argued against opposing fans and each other, etc…
In the days leading up to my departure for Cuba I had been following the Cuban League championships having seen that the Industriales and Villa Clara teams were set to meet in the finals. When I saw the schedule for the games, I was ecstatic as games 3, 4, & 5 were in Havana on the exact days of my trip while we’d be in the Capitol city.
Being used to attending Major League games my whole life, I’ve grown accustomed to paying absurd amounts of money for just a regular season game, let alone the championship. So when I arrived at Estadio Latinoamericano and learned that the tickets were only $3 and $1, I was amazed. I thought maybe all of the good seats were sold out.
Nevertheless, we bought the tickets and found ourselves some really good seats on the first base side in the shade. I was amazed to arrive at the stadium 2 ½ hours before game time and already find the fans in full swing of an afternoon party. The music playing on the loud speakers, the fans with their bongos and horns, dancing and cheering like it was the bottom of the ninth inning.
As the time for the first pitch approached and the stadium started filling up to maximum capacity you could feel the intensity from the crowd growing. As the crowd cheered him on, the Blue Lion mascot of the home team Industriales paraded across the infield bashing an oversized orange juice can representing the Villa Clara Orangemen.
When the game actually started, the stadium seemed like it had gone over maximum capacity. Fans were packed in shoulder to shoulder on the bench seats. The walkways were completely packed with fans pushing to get a good view.
There was a definite change in the mood of the crowd as the first pitch was thrown. Everyone was focused on the play on the field and cheering ecstatically if the home team made a good play or scored a run. There was definitely a difference in the energy of the crowd for a Cuban baseball game than the major league games in the U.S.
While the fans in the U.S. tend to sit back and relax in between plays and before the start of the inning, the Cuban fans are standing on their seats singing, chanting, waving flags and banners. It was by far a more excited atmosphere at Estadio Latinoamericano.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience to witness a professional baseball game in a completely different setting than I’ve been in before. To see the Cuban people so passionate about this sport that has been a large part of my life for so long was truly a thrill.