Cubans share national pastime

Sarah Cox and Sarah Cox

The debate between whether American or Cuban baseball is better can be confusing, but really can’t be determined until one has gone to a game in each country and spoken to fans. My visit to Cuba included a game at Havana’s baseball stadium. The home team and expected champions of the next season are the Industriales — the “Yankees” of Cuba. They represent the city of

Havana. Tonight’s opponents are called Ciego de Avilla.

As I take a seat in Havana’s baseball stadium, some University of Havana students I met earlier that day make their way over. The game begins with one noticeable difference — the stands and playing field are smaller than in America. Slowly, those stands begin to fill with Cuban men, women and children. People are drinking, eating peanuts, popcorn and other snacks.

The Cuban students said baseball is the national sport of Cuba and is played all year in two six-month seasons, the first beginning in January. Of the country’s 16 teams.

Fourteen represent the provinces of Cuba, one represents Havana and another for the Isle of Youth, near Cuba’s mainland. I ask a few men whose eyes are fixed on the field if it is okay for me to ask them a few questions — they agree.

Cuba’s baseball players work full time jobs and make extra time for exercise and games, one said. They do not receive any additional income.

“Your players have a salary for playing,” one fan said. “Ours do not. They do it because they love it. It is weaved all throughout the culture.”

The only special treatment they receive are extra food allowances. There is no special prize for winning the final game, except gaining the title of Campeón: Champion.

Cuban fans had answers as to why American baseball and why our TV ratings are declining, the answer was that the U.S. does not breed fanatics because “American teams have players from all over,” another fan said.

“Our teams come from one area,” he said. “So, we have many fanatics supporting their regional team.”

From what I gather, Cubans play for the love of the game — it can’t be for fame or money. It is weaved through their lives. It is tradition.

The game ends and the fans begin to leave. The stands will remain empty until the Cuban fans once again congregate to watch their beloved game of baseball. By the way, the Industriales are still looking like the potential season champs. They won 5-2.

Reporter Sarah Cox is currently participating in Semester at Sea, a program where students spend a semester traveling by boat, visiting countries across the globe.