By Vincent PAGE, intern
Baseball has been and always will be a significant part of America’s past. The sport is to America what soccer is to Europe. But this is also true for Cuba, a country that has had its fair share of disagreements with the U.S. However, recently baseball was the tool used to bring people together.
Last week, for the first time since 1928, a sitting United States president visited Cuba. President Barack Obama saw baseball as a way for the two countries to establish a friendly relationship. The MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays squared off against the Cuban National Team. The Obamas, Cuban president Raul Castro, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, and many former MLB stars, including Derek Jeter and Dave Winfield, were in attendance. Although the Rays dominated most of the game, it did not deter the Cuban fans from being extremely enthusiastic throughout the nine innings.
Much like American youth, baseball is an all-important part of a Cuban kid’s childhood. They patiently wait until they are old enough to take the step from pretending to win the World Series (or Cuba’s equivalent, the Cuban National Series) to actually beginning their little league career. Parents fill the stands, enjoying every moment of their child playing the sport they love, secretly hoping they can be one of the greats in due time.
Baseball began in Cuba shortly after the sport found its place in America. Cuban scholars returning from America spread the sport, which eventually replaced Spanish sports such as bullfighting. It was not until the 1930s that amateur baseball leagues – Cuba’s form of baseball today – began. Sugarmill leagues, popularized in the 1950s, had teams regionally chosen based on the mill for which the players worked. Sugarmill leagues were one of the main sources from which professional Cuban clubs scouted prospects. As Cuban education advanced, players realized that amateur leagues were not where money was made, so many jumped straight to the professional leagues. This gave them a better chance at possibly playing for an MLB team, which was the ultimate goal.
In the 1960s, during the Revolution, the Cuban government banned all professional sports, instead choosing amateur sports so that athletes felt they were personally contributing to the rebuilding of a nation. Amateur baseball was once again the focal point of Cuban sports, and has remained that way to this day. Nowadays, the Cuban National Series is the prime league in Cuba. Amateur baseball teams are formed based on region and play in a 90-game, four-month season with the eight top teams playing in a postseason tournament to decide the champion. The best players are offered a spot on the Cuban national team with the possibility of being paid for playing the sport they love.
Cuba and the United States have enjoyed a long relationship with baseball. It has withstood wars, revolutions and terrorist attacks. No matter what has happened in either country to bring its people down, baseball has always provided a safe, hopeful outlet for citizens to believe their lives will return to normal. Now, after 50 years of two countries isolating themselves from each other, the beautiful sport of baseball has begun to help those nations make amends.