The fact that Cubans love their baseball is legendary.
Walking through Parque Central in front of Havana’s Hotel Inglaterra, you will often encounter a small group of men exchanging views at an intensity that will cause you to give them a wide berth. They aren’t arguing about politics, they are arguing about baseball stats and some get quite carried away with it.
If you think that is extreme, wait until you see a baseball game at the Estadio Latinamericano!
First of all, finding out when games are being played is no small feat. You need to ask a local who will in turn likely have to make a few phone calls. If you are lucky, you will be in town the week that a game is being played. If the national league is not in season often there will be international tournaments taking place as was our case when we were able to catch the Cuban national team taking on the best Nicaragua has to offer. If a game will be played, then hop into a taxi and head out to the ball game!
At the Estadio Latinamericano (located in the Cerro neighbourhood) you will find a monolith worthy of national baseball league stadiums of North America (it seats up to 55,000) albeit in slightly less repair. As a tourist, you must find your own designated box office, which is a tiny caged window around back (ask your cab driver to stick around and help you find it) where you will secure tickets at prices slightly higher than the locals. But fear not, if they are paying a peso for theirs, yours is only about 5 pesos, so a bargain by any stretch of the imagination for the caliber of baseball you are about to enjoy!
Inside the stadium, behinds the stands, you will find some small concession stands where sandwiches, peanuts and beer are available. Grab a couple of beers and you are good to go.
As far as we could figure out, there were no reserved seats so, you might be able to get as close to the action as you choose. In our case, since the Cubans were playing the Nicaguarans, the entire side supporting the local heroes was full while the other side of the stadium was nearly empty. You show your loyalties by where you sit!
Once you are in your seats, the fun begins. The crowd (many of whom live only to watch and track baseball) hangs on to every pitch, every fielding success and every hit by the locals as if worshipping some baseball Gods in their midst. And when a run is batted in? Hold onto your peanuts as the masses erupt into a celebration that threatens to shake the sixty-six year old stadium to its foundations.
Between hits and on-field action, in the stands you will notice small clutches of spectators involved in heated discussions. In fact, they are so involved in making their points about whether one player has fifty hits this season or fifty-one, it may appear to the untrained eye that they are about to get into a fist fight. We were sitting near one such group where one guy kept slapping his hand on a big book of statistics similar in the size to the Bible. Their argument lasted the whole game. We kept eying two policemen, who were sitting near us, fully expecting they would have to spring into action but they just ignored the spectacle knowing it was simply part of the baseball landscape.
At any rate, a trip to see a professional baseball game in Cuba is a real treat and if you can figure out how to see one, do go. It should definitely be on your Cuban bucket list and you won’t be disappointed.
Words and photos