Baseball culture in Cuba alive and thriving


Photo by David Corrie Jr./Contributor

Daniel Larios,

We got word there was a recreational baseball field where locals go to play pick-up games a couple of kilometers away from our hotel. In the hopes of recording a casual interview, we decided to pack a few things and head out that way. We figured the worst-case scenario is we’d get some b-roll or pictures of some of Cuba’s fields. We didn’t expect what happened next.

Upon arrival, we approached a man who was practicing his wind up and pitching form. In Cuba, the older folks play a hybrid version of slow and fast pitch softball. It’s basically pitched underhand but they’ve developed a way to speed up the throw without wind-milling it like women do in college and the Olympics. As we came closer, he gestured as if he knew us and then immediately engaged us. Luckily, he spoke enough English to make up for my bad Spanish.  We explained what we were doing and he while he didn’t mind answering our questions, he did inform us that we may want to get permission from the school director to record on the grounds. Apparently, this baseball field was tied to an adjacent primary school.

We walked toward the entrance of the school where we were understandably greeted with what one could argue, a slight sense of hostility. There we were, four over eager American men with backpacks filled with video and audio equipment encroaching upon their land, not to mention a school for children. Once again, we tried explaining to the headmistress what we were doing there and what we were attempting to do, but we were immediately shut down, with no room for negotiation. From what we gathered, she said the school was dedicated to Jose Marti and any media involving the school would have to first get approved through some sort of international press committee. Not having much of a choice, we obliged, but then we did ask for permission to at least watch the game from the stands. Reluctantly, she agreed.

Although we were tempted to sneak a camera out of a bag and get some footage of the players, we didn’t want an international incident stemming from our actions, so we behaved. But then something interesting happened, just as they were wrapping up their warmups and stretches, the boys approached us in the stands and asked us if we wanted to play. We weren’t really dressed for the occasion and didn’t have any equipment but, one; I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by and two; these guys were so accommodating, they lent us their gloves and bats as if we’d known them for years.

Now I play in an adult men’s recreational league anyway so I knew I could hold my own with these guys. Even though there were a couple of young studs out there, most of them were in their 30’s or 40’s and their strengths were now more about their technical acumen as opposed to brute strength.

Game time.

What happened next was everything I expected this trip to be. I grabbed a glove and pointed to second base as to ask if I could take the position. It’s funny, Cuban’s love their shortstops and all these guys wanted to play there so clearly, 2nd base was open and mine.

First play of the game, line drive straight to me, one out. 2nd play of the game, pop up behind me, I run it down, two outs. Phew. Cobwebs officially removed. As the game progressed, I was consistent and even got a couple of hits. As for my counterparts, they didn’t fare as well. In Cam’s defense, he’s more a football player than baseball player, but overall, he did ok. Mitch on the other hand, I have no idea what happened, but he missed the ball every single time when he was batting. Luckily though he had a redeeming moment when he made an out in right field.

The game concluded when a thunder storm that rolled in with a vengeance, but for those few games, even though we may not have been able to say much to each other verbally, the language of baseball transcended all and we played together with nothing on our mind other than the game.