If you ask Cuban men about their favorite sport, most of them will answer: baseball, or as it is sometimes called in Cuba, pelota. Baseball matches are important events in all the cities of the country, and most locals follow the National Baseball Series. From a very young age many of the Cuban children play baseball in public parks and stadiums. The love for this sport is overwhelming all across the country. So, how did the tradition of playing baseball appear in Cuba?
The first official baseball match on the island was played in 1874 in the “Palmar de Jaruco” stadium in Matanzas city. Since then the popularity of the game started rising in Cuba, and during the years before the Cuban Revolution there were several globally acknowledged Baseball leagues in Cuba. These included the main professional Cuban League, and the minor league Havana Sugar Kings. However, the most important part of the history of Cuban baseball stars in 1959, when the Cuban Revolution triumphed, and everything related to sports in Cuba suffered significant changes.
First of all, in 1961 the new government led by Fidel Castro banned every form of professional sport. The new politics stated, that sports must be done by common people: average workmen who decide to devote their free time to practice their favorite sports. Until these days, all Cuban sportsmen are considered amateurs, and must have another official occupation. So, in 1961 the professional league was dissolved, and the 1st National Series started.
The 1961-1962 National Series took place between as little as four teams. The next year the number of teams increased to six. Then, in 1967-1968 there were already 12 teams taking part in the battle for the name of the best baseball team in Cuba. During the following nine years the structure of the series had been undergoing constant changes, the number of participant teams varying from 6 to 14, and the number of games per series, from 27 to 99. Then, in 1978 the organizers finally settled an 18-team structure, which remained active until 1992, when it was reduced to the modern 16 teams – one team per province. Only for a couple of times in 2011-2012 there were 17 teams participating in the series, due to the province of Havana being divided into two new provinces: Mayabeque and Artemisa, but then it once again returned to the 16-team structure.
Now the Cuban National Series consists of 16 teams, representing all the provinces in Cuba, which play 90 matches per series, competing for the name of the Cuban national team. The series usually extend from September through February, although you always should revise the schedule, as sometimes it may start in mid-August and end in January, like the last 58th 2018-2019 National Series, which ended on January 17th, 2019 with Las Tunas becoming the national champion, and thus being chosen to participate in the Caribbean series.
In Cuba, every team has a nickname – something the team feels themselves represented by. There also is a rank, based on the former results of the series. It is topped by the Industriales (Havana) team, who call themselves “Lions”. Statistically, they are considered the strongest team, having the biggest number of consecutive victories (four), as well as the biggest number of total victories (twelve). Industrialles are followed by the Santiago de Cuba team (“Wasps”), the Pinar del Rio team (“Growers”), and the Villa Clara team (“Sugarmakers”), thus making the four strongest teams in the country. The remaining teams with their respective nicknames are the following: “Crocodiles” of Matanzas, “Pirates” of Isla de la Juventud, “Elephants” of Cienfuegos, “Roosters” of Sancti Spiritus, “Hunters” of Artemisa, “Hurricanes” of Mayabeque, “Bulls” of Camaguey, “Tigers” of Ciego de Avila, “Lumberjacks” of Las Tunas, “Sorrels” of Granma, “Indians” of Guantanamo, and “Puppies” of Holguin.
If you are a fan of baseball, or if you simply don’t want to miss an opportunity to get to know better the Cuban lifestyle and spirit, make sure to visit a baseball match while staying on the island. It is not difficult for a foreigner to attend a game: sure, tourists have to pay much more than locals, but for 3 CUC you can afford a ticket for the best seats on the stadium on the same day of the match. It is important to notice that you cannot book tickets: they are only sold on the spot. But don’t worry: in Cuba nobody has ever complained about a lack of baseball, so you will surely be able to attend any game you want.