It’s baseball season on the island of Baseball. But just try finding a baseball in stores.
Like so many basic things in cash-strapped Cuba, baseballs are out of stock. Everywhere. But what you will find… everywhere…is big league excitement. The end of the season is nigh.
At the Esquina Caliente or the Hot Corner also known as third Base, in baseball lingo. In Havana, it’s where die-hards come to ponder the many nuances of Cuba’s national sport.
If this is Cuban social media, today’s trending topic is game 2 of the Serie Nacional championship. Basically, it’s Cuba’s World Series.
A player tells us, “Baseball is everything for Cubans. We live for this. We play for the fans out here in the stadium. It’s the same no matter what province we travel to. We’re proud to be Cuban and to play for our people.”
Cuba and the United States have a complicated relationship, even on the diamond. Generations ago Fidel Castro turned baseball into something bigger than a game: a symbol of national identity, pride and defiance. Players at the top have long rivaled their American counterparts.
There are some important differences between the Cuban league and the majors. First, here the players aren’t pro. They earn a state salary of about $40 a month. The upside? The ticket price for this World Series game is four Cents. That means anyone can come. And it seems everyone from Ciego has.
Third difference? Conga drums in the bleachers. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement.
That may be true. But then there’s that multi-million dollar siren’s song wafting across the Florida straits. Every year a handful of Cuba’s star players defect to the U.S. in search of lucrative contracts. Many make it on to the rosters. Some become stars, like infielder Yoan Moncada, a rising star here, who just signed with the Red Sox for $60 million. He’s a testament to how good the Cuban system is and the spectacular breach between the two economies. Indeed the two countries.