Havana Province lefty Lemay de la Rosa was 10-3 in
|This photo gallery includes images from Serie Nacional play. It also includes some
off-field images, which
help capture the passion that Cubans have for La Pelota. In the fields, in the parks and in the stadiums, baseball is Cuba’s national sport and national pastime. The game extends to all provinces in Cuba and to major cities as well as small towns.
Baseball or beisbol, referred to as La Pelota (Ball) in Cuba, is the country’s national sport and number one passion. It’s a game that is followed closely in all parts of the country, by Cubans of all ages.
Today Cuba boasts of over 6,600 organized amateur teams involving nearly 120,000 players from ages nine and older. The National Institute for Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) organizes teams in every neighbourhood, municipality and province. Nearly every Cuban kid participates either in informal pick-up games and/or at an organized level.
|Cuba’s socialist system endeavors to ensure the most broad-based participation in physical education and recreational activities and no sport is more popular or widely played than La Pelota.
La Pelota is woven into the fabric of Cuban culture. It is often an important bond between Cubans on the island and
abroad. Within the Cuban sports system, the values of physical discipline, intellectual development and loyalty to the country are extolled. Kids play ball representing their communities with pride and receive support from parents and neighbours.
Kids from age 9 on up play organized ball.
By the age of 13, the most promising youngsters are enlisted in one of fifteen Sports Initiation Schools in Cuba. By age 16, promising youngsters further develop by attending Advanced Schools for Athletic Perfection in each of the country’s fourteen provinces. Provincial championships are held for the following ages brackets: 9-10; 11-12; 13 –14; 15-16 and 17-18 year-olds.
Youngsters aspire to one day play for one of 16 teams in Cuba’s national league – the Serie Nacional – which today has a 90 game season. Following that, the top athletes play in a four team Super Liga, which is the equivalent of the Serie Selectiva league.
Then teams representing Cuba are chosen. They are teams considered the very best or next to the best. Team Cuba (Equipo Cuba), the one which represents the country at the highest level of competition (Olympic Games, World Cups, Intercontinental Cups, etc.) is the toughest one to select. Vigorous debates always take place over which players don’t make the final Team Cuba roster.
Cuba’s modern-day amateur baseball system was created by INDER in 1961 following the
abolition of professional baseball by the
revolutionary government. Prior to that there were four professional teams in the
country: Almendares, Cienfuegos, Marianao and Havana.
The first amateur Serie Nacional championship took place in 1962 when the Occidentales took the first league title in a four team structure. In 1965, the Serie Nacional
extended to six teams and by the 1970s there were teams in all 14 provinces that the country had created. The best baseball in Cuba no longer was to be a game enjoyed by some fans in some cities – INDER extended the sport to the far reaches of the nation as a direct function of its mandate to promote socialism and egalitarianism.
The Serie Nacional is extended to many small
|The INDER evolved a sport with deep roots in Cuba, both at the professional and amateur level. In 1864, a young Cuban studying in the United States, Nemesio Guillo, was the first to bring baseball equipment back home, introducing his countrymen to the sport, according to some historians. Two years later U.S. merchant mariners would invite Cubans to play baseball and assist them in making a baseball field in Matanzas.
Three years before the first recorded game in Cuba in 1874, a Cuban named Esteban Bellan played for the Troy Haymakers of the National Association, thus becoming the first Latin American to play professional baseball. Then, in 1878, Bellan helped establish a three team professional league, one that was soon condemned by Spanish colonialists.
In the late 1800s, Cubans helped introduce baseball to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela
- spreading the gospel throughout the Caribbean. Various American teams visited the country in the early 1900s. By 1911 Cubans Armando Marsans and Rafael Almeida become the first countrymen to play in the modern big leagues.
In 1914 a national amateur league was founded in Cuba. Teams sponsors included a tennis club, a society and athletic clubs.
A Cuban named Adolfo Luque pitched with the Cincinatti Reds in the 1919 World Series and was 27-8 four years later with the Brooklyn Dodgers with an ERA of 1.93, still the best among Latino pitchers.
In 1926 Cuba participated, along with Mexico, in the first Central American and Caribbean games. In 1937 Martin Dihigo, who played in the Negro Leagues and
is considered by many to be the greatest all-around Cuban player ever, pitched a no-hit, no-run game in Mexico.
A commemorative bust of Cuban great Adolfo Luque
is displayed in Estadio Latinoamericano
In 1938 Cuba won the second-ever World Cup of baseball – a tournament it has competed in 24 times since.
In 1946 the Gran Estadio, now known as Estadio Latinoamericano, opened in Havana, where 31,000 fans saw the Almendares defeat Cienfuegos. Three years later, Cuba hosted the Caribbean Series, a four nation professional tournament it would participate in until 1960.
In June of 1959 the last organized international, professional baseball game took place in Cuba between the International League’s Havana Sugar Kings and the Rochester Red Wings. The amateur Serie Nacional would be introduced during the 1961-62 season.
In the spring of 1999, the Baltimore Orioles and Cuba played a two game series, pitting one the world’s best amateur selections against a contingent of major league stars. The series was split home and home, as
Cuba outscored the Orioles 14-9.