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Life, death and baseball in Cuba

Life, death and baseball in Cuba

It almost always happens that upon trying to establish the paternity of any sport, opinions differ, and baseball is not immune to this. It is clear, however, that modern baseball developed in the United States and that the first official modern baseball game was played in New York in 1846. It is most probable then that Cubans first knew about the game thanks to the geographical proximity of both countries. Proof of this is an enactment, which prohibited “playing with a ball in the streets or any other public spaces as it can break the street lamps,” issued in Matanzas Province as early as 1847.

Twenty-one years later, on October 1, 1868, the Spanish Captain General in the Island issued a decree abolishing the practice of baseball in the national territory, for being an “anti-Spanish game conducive to uprisings, which is contrary to our language and fosters a lack of love for Spain.”

Despite the prohibition, Cubans continued to play baseball in Havana and Matanzas, although clandestinely, under the famous adage that “laws are accepted but not obeyed,” which was pretty much the feeling of the Cuban people against the Spanish rule. The Captain General was not entirely misguided, for a few of those Cuban baseball pioneers conspired and fought against Spain.

Cubans had to wait six years to play its first official game in Palmar de Junco, Matanzas Province, on December 27, 1874, and four more years, almost to the day, to hold the first Cuban Baseball Championship, which began on December 29, 1878 on what is now the intersection of Línea Street and Avenída de los Presidentes.

As to its origin, most scholars believe that baseball evolved from a variety of similar games that have been played with a stick and a ball for centuries. When Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, he found that the Indians played a game they called batos, which was played with a stick, like a bat, and a ball made of tree resin that was hit, much like the modern game.

After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, professional sport was fully eradicated. Since then, Cuban amateur teams have shown their quality in numberless championships. Cuba has won many important victories in baseball, and has had its share of losses, too.

A special tribute has to be paid to Cuban baseball fans who every year fill the stadiums throughout the country to cheer on their favorite teams, and discuss and share their opinions publicly with whoever wants to listen. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the first official game in the island, but baseball remains as popular and strong as ever. September 2012

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