Béisbol: A Traveler’s Inside Look at Baseball in Cuba

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The author found this "Field of Dreams" while driving around western Cuba. Most of the players were tobacco farmers. Lots of shoe-less Joe Jacksons. Photo by Rob Born
The author found this “Field of Dreams” while driving around western Cuba. Most of the players were tobacco farmers. Lots of shoe-less Joe Jacksons. Photo by Rob Born

It’s a poor place set amidst expansive tobacco fields and steep-sided limestone hills called mogotes. In the heart of the village, we find a stunningly beautiful baseball field with a richly colored red dirt infield and a perfectly imperfect white picket fence. Despite the obvious poverty in the area, the locals have clearly sacrificed to create and maintain the field.

Within minutes of exiting the bus, several children come over to meet us. The crowd grows rapidly when the donated baseball gear comes out. An informal game follows as the children are eager to test out their new equipment. We laugh at what these Cuban kids would do to our children’s Little League teams. Even the 9-year-olds have long, elegant batting strokes, and they swing hard at everything. We drive away at sunset wondering if some future baseball superstar will someday emerge from this remote Field of Dreams.

One afternoon in Havana after a game, we break up into small groups and wander through back streets. The music, the architecture, the dance and, of course, the colorful Cuban people all contribute to a magical mosaic: Pulsing salsa in alleyways, passionate sports debates on street corners, kids playing stick ball games in the streets, and the smell of freshly cooked rice, beans and plantains coming from “paladares” home restaurants. The crumbling facades and 1950s model Buicks and Chevys create an authentic charm. There is also poverty. The half-finished infrastructure projects, abruptly halted following the Soviet Union’s collapse over 20 years ago, provide stark symbols of continuing struggles.

Even the younger kids are impressive players. Photo by Rob Born
Even the younger kids are impressive players. Photo by Rob Born

On our way to the airport the final day, we are exhausted and humbled by our collective good fortune to have remained fit enough to undertake this incredible trip. Our guide Elias, who had enjoyed watching us compete against some of his favorite Cuban baseball idols, informed us that Cuban national radio had just reported that a “master class team of baseball players from a university in America” had played a series of competitive games against former Serie Nacional de Beisbol players. Elias was quick to point out that the broadcast had graciously not provided the final record of our tour. Then he paused for a moment, smiled broadly and proclaimed: “You see, my friends, no particular team won this week. It was baseball that won.”

Rob Born

Author Bio: Rob Born is vice president of corporate and business development at Vocera Communications, Inc. (www.vocera.com), a leading provider of clinical communications systems for healthcare organizations. He was captain of the baseball team at Amherst College, graduating in 1990 with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature.