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Cuba falling in love with baseball all over again

Cuba falling in love with baseball all over again

Posted by Juan Gavasa on March 16, 2015

In Cuba, baseball is a rich man’s sport.

The cost of a bat, glove, ball and uniform can be just too much for a typical Cuban family to bear. That doesn’t stop them from scrimping and saving, putting pesos aside to pursue the big-league dream and play the game they love.

“In Cuba, you’re born with it,” said Alain Duran Rios, whose own hopes for a baseball career have transferred to his eldest son, Andy, who is 10. “From the time they’re born, children have a bat and ball in hand.

“Baseball,” Rios said, “can open doors.”

And an end to the United States’ decades-long embargo against the island nation — making it possible for Cuban athletes to pursue careers in professional sport — could make those doors so much easier to walk through.

“Before, players were forced to defect — leaving their friends and family to play in America,” said Nicolas Reyes, who played for Havana’s Industriales in the early 1970s and now works as a baseball trainer. “Now, they will have the option of going to play in America while still being able to live in Cuba.”

Under the day's fading light, men and children play a game of “las cuatro esquinas”, or the four corners, in Trinidad, Cuba.

On a weekend day, walk five blocks in any direction in central Havana and you can find men and children playing the game. Some use broken broomsticks or rusting metal rods as bats; others make water bottle caps or rolled up yarn into balls. The makeshift bases vary from deflated juice boxes to random scraps of cardboard found in nearby garbage bins.

The sound of bat hitting ball echoes through the streets, and the flow of traffic seems to dance to its beat. Old women — curlers in their hair — press up against their metal-gated doorways, gasping and awing as if it were the latest episode of la novella.

Seeing live baseball was, for many years, the easiest way for Cubans to watch the game. Until very recently, Major League Baseball was not available on Cuban television — unlike soccer from Italy, Spain, Germany and England, which caused a surge in the beautiful game’s popularity with kids.

Ivan Lopez, a reporter who has covered baseball for various radio stations like Radio Reloj, Radio Caribe and Radio Habana since 1966 and now works as a contract reporter for Canal 10 TV, thinks a renewal for the love of the game that already seeps through the streets and into the heart of every Cuban is coming — and part of that is the possibility of those big-league dreams coming true.

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