From The Dugout – What It’s Like Watching Baseball In Cuba
Cuba was an all around amazing experience, and I look forward to going back in the future, should the opportunity present itself. The people are wonderful and kind, the food was pretty good, and the area as a whole has a refined sense of culture that surprisingly reminded me of Vietnam in many ways. Some were perhaps negative when hearing about it, but for the most part, I really enjoyed my stay.
One of the primary events that the baseball team got to experience while in Cuba, obviously, was baseball. It’s been America’s pasttime for quite a while, and Cubans are obsessed with the sport. With something as popular as baseball is, you’d think they’d be quite good at it.
Although the team went down fighting in all three games, many players would likely tell you now that the score on the board had absolutely no effect on their reflection of the journey to Cuba. It simply doesn’t matter. That’s not to say it didn’t matter at the time, in the moment, but looking back on the week-long vacation on the island… playing baseball with them, and sharing that experience was all that matters.
In game one, the team went up and took the lead quickly in what looked to be the start of a great game and victory. The Cubans, as I said earlier, are great players though, and soon the game was all tied up 3-3. It lasted all the way through the ninth inning, and into the tenth, before the Cuba team, which was comprised of men who essentially play baseball for a living, managed to score the winning run and take the game 4-3. It was a loss, but like I said before: It doesn’t matter.
The next game was played in what can probably be referred to as Cuba’s “Yankee stadium”, the Estadios Latinamericano (Latin American Stadium). The giant baseball facility hosts the famous Industrials baseball club, and seats over 55,000 people within it’s walls. The experience of playing here was amazing I’m sure, as it would be one of the largest parks they’d ever stepped foot on for a game. The score wasn’t nearly as close this time, but the Lakers did pt up a battle. Many attempts to dive for a catch, and slide to steal a base, gave the Cubans something to pay attention to. Home field advantage isn’t always that much of an advantage though, as we found out by the attitude of the crowd.
Although the Cuban fans were rooting for their team to come out on top, there were many instances when you could hardly tell. In many cases, the Lakers got cheers from the people in the stands, and the crowd sided with them on many calls (some which weren’t necessarily agreed upon by the coaching staff). The people just enjoyed the game. It didn’t matter if you were home team or not. They just love baseball, and are fond of the competition on the field.
Baseball competition in Cuba did some extrodinary things. Much like political talks between the country and others around the world, they are absorbed into a situation in which everyone is equal. The most beautiful thing about the game, is that America and Cuba are equal on that field. There is no rich, powerful nation versus the poor people of a small island…. there are just two teams of men trying to play a game. Neutral. The way it always should be.
The attitude in the dugouts was especially grand, with supportive teammates and teamwork on and off the field. Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas even got the opportunity to suit up and help the team as the first base coach for game three, something he’d been wanting to do since we’d started. It’s always been about the experiences, big and small. There is no question that it will be something they’ll remember with smiles for the rest of their lives.