Three weeks ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Cuba. We took a cruise to Havana and, playing by the rules, took a guided “people-to-people” tour of the city. Sadly, this tour did not include baseball… at first.
The tour we took was on the “Art and Culture” of Cuba. Naturally, as the Baseball Sociologist, I consider baseball to be both art and culture, but our tour guide stated that we would not be seeing the stadium on that particular tour. However, as we drove around the city, I began to get hopeful. I saw what seemed to be stadium lights peeking out above the buildings. Then, all of a sudden, the big beautiful blue stadium arose out of the landscape as we turned into an intersection.
I’m sure my gasp of awe and excitement was audible. The tour guide must have noticed because he immediately looked out the window and proclaimed to the tourists on the bus that we were passing the stadium after all. He noted that it was the location of the game President Obama attended between the National team and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016. He also mentioned the deal between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation that had been announced the day before. Our tour guide, who is employed by the Cuban government, stated he thought the agreement would be good for the players, giving them a safer – and legal – way to sign with major league teams.
Estadio Latinoamericano opened in October 1946. The first baseball game there was played on October 26. The Almendares baseball club beat Cienfuegos by a score of 9 to 1. The Industriales replaced Alemendares as the main team playing in Estadio Latinoamericano in 1961 when professional baseball was banned in Cuba.
I craned my neck to see as much as I could see of the stadium through the windows of the bus. We quickly passed right by it, with no opportunity to hop off the bus and look around. Unlike most U.S. stadiums, we drove right by it – there were no parking lots or other barriers between it and us, just the sidewalk. I found it interesting that it really did seem to appear out of nowhere – seemingly right in the midst of a neighborhood.
Unfortunately, that brief glimpse of the stadium is pretty much all we got to experience of baseball in Cuba during our inaugural trip to the island. But now that I’ve spent a few hours in Havana, I know I want to go back. I’m already saving up for our next trip, during which we will see more baseball!