Jackie Robinson Day 2020 – Covid 19


Today I join baseball fans around the globe to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.

#Jackie42

The event has turned into a special day for our family as this is the day we all suit up and head to Dodger stadium.  Due to Covid-19 our celebration will be virtual as even though a pandemic is blazing across the land, paying homage to “Jack” must go on.

One of my many caps celebrating Jackie. Courtesy of Terry from Baller Gear.

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.

As a baseball historian I have mapped out a full schedule of activities to pay my respect.  Here is a partial listing as well as some great links you may want to check-out if you too are inspired to salute #42.

The players, umpires, managers and coaches may not be on the field donning #42 but you can believe people from all walks of life will be wearing their Jackie Robinson gear as a sign of respect and connection to his legacy.

 


MLB’S COMPLETE GUIDE TO JACKIE ROBINSON DAY


Ken Griffey, Jr. gives a great interview on how he was inspired to call baseball commissioner Bud Selig to request if he could wear #42 CLICK HERE


#42 was a special movie because it captured Robinson’s experience as he hit the Dodgers minor league play in preparation in being called up to the “big team.”  It captures his stint in Daytona Beach, Fl which today has the Jackie Robinson stadium and is used by the Chicago Cubs minor league system.  Additionally there is some great scenes from Sanford, FL (about 20 miles from Daytona Beach) which in 2012 happened to be the city Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman.

#42


I’ve seen just about every documentary and film about Jackie Robinson, so in addition to 42 and others, I will be revisiting Ken Burns great four hour project.

JACKIE ROBINSON

 


The Jackie Robinson is a great movie as Jack and Rachel play themselves

THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY


Prior to signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie was with the Kansas City Monarchs.  Pictured below is his 1945 baseball card.


The Jackie Robinson Foundation

Jackie Robinson Museum

MLB celebrates Black History Month – Andre Dawson Classic


There’s the Hammer (Hank Aaron), and there’s the Cobra (Dave Parker) and so many other great African-American professional baseball players who earned their unique nicknames.   Then there’s the Hawk, the nickname given to Andre Dawson.

 

In 2008 as part of their outreach and recognition of Black History Month, Major League Baseball launched the Urban Invitational Classic to showcase the talent of HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).  Over the last several years the name was changed to recognize “The Hawk” and is now called the Andre Dawson Classic.   Dawson played his college ball at famed Florida A & M.  The games will be featured on the MLB network so check your local provider for game times.


SAT. FEB. 15TH

Southern University (HBCU) faces Alcorn State (HBCU) at 2:00 p.m. ET, then the University of New Orleans plays Grambling State University (HBCU) at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Negro Leagues celebrates 100th birthday


KANSAS CITY, UNITED STATES: Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush looks at a statue of the founder of the Negro Baseball Leagues Rube Foster as he is given a tour of the Negro League Baseball Museum by its director, Don Motley, 18 September, 2000, in Kansas City, Missouri. AFP Photo/Tannen MAURY (Photo credit should read TANNEN MAURY/AFP via Getty Images)

Today the Negro Leagues commemorates its 100th birthday.  Starting in 1920, the Negro Leagues became an institution for African-Americans who had professional talent to play but were denied to join Major League Baseball.due to racial discrimination that was the law of the day.

The league has come and gone but today its greatness can be seen as communicated by the Negro League Baseball Museum.  Even though the “old” Negro leagues started in the late 1800’s, it was nearly forty years later when Rube Foster had the vision to organize teams for the masses to enjoy.

The contribution of the league is of great folklore to United States history.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A must see clip featuring MLB’s Harold Reynolds and NLBM’s Bob Kendrick.

 


 

The Bigger Picture: The Dodgers grab Mookie Betts and David Price


Above caption:  L.A. lands Betts in blockbuster trade, MLB

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 – 1972) of the Brooklyn Dodgers signs deal, 1947. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

For over thirty years the Los Angeles Dodgers have been trying to win the World Series.  They have come close and in the past decade they have regularly won their division.  In the past three years they made it to game seven of the World Series only to lose to the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox respectively.  Enough is enough!!  For their 2020 run they have a lot at stake.  Among other things they will host the All-Star game.  As they prepare for spring-training in a couple of days, up until yesterday it looked like business as usual; favored to win their division but a longshot of getting back to the World Series.



Yesterday evening they vaulted as the perennial favorite to be thronged as 2020 World Series champs, at least on paper.  They grabbed superstar Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox.  Both are impact players the Dodgers badly need if are to be taken seriously.   Betts brings all of the tools which have made him a coveted “find.”  Price brings a veteran arm to strengthen a pitching corps which recently saw Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenta Maeta depart via trades.

 

The bigger picture

 

Professional sports is a lucrative business.  Like any organization or corporate body, they are defined by how they embrace corporate responsibility.  When the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1945 as the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball (M.L.B.), it was more than just a regular signing.  He made his debut on April 15, 1947 and it was a turning point in our society.  The Dodgers were rewarded then and up until recently by many, particularly the African-American community for taking a gesture that can be traced as the beginning of the modern civil rights era.  People, even those who didn’t live in Brooklyn or for that matter weren’t necessarily baseball fans, the Dodgers became their favorite team.

 

Jackie Robinson’s legacy gets stronger every year especially for those who have access to information like never before.  Unfortunately for the Dodgers all of the goodwill from their Jackie Robinson connection has recently come under question.  Last year the genie came out of the bottle as the media started reporting what many had known: the 2019 team did not have one African-American player on their roster.  To the chagrin of many, yes David Roberts who is the manager is African-American and some have African ethnicity but it was an eyesore that could not be explained, especially in Los Angeles.  A city that prides itself as a leader of a diverse population.  There are many reasons for the lack of African-American players but it was a new level of hypocrisy for the Dodgers to tout the signing of Robinson and round out their 2019 roster with a goose-egg.

 

Interestingly, both Betts and Price hail from Tennessee.  Their presence gets the Dodgers off the hook from a social and community perspective and more important their talent may be what is needed for them to get to the World Series and claim the crown.  In the meantime, only time will tell as winning is the name of the game.  While much has been written about the Robinson phenomenon, to their credit M.L.B. has taken on a strategy of incorporating more players of color by internationalizing the game.  While there has been a dearth of African-American players there has been a spike of players coming from the Caribbean and beyond (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Curacao, Venezuela and of course Puerto Rico).  So, the bottom line is the Betts, Price trade to the Dodgers allows them to refocus the spotlight on something positive versus something negative.


Fred Thomas, III is a lifelong Dodgers fan having attended his first game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with his father and older brother in the late ’50’s.

Baseball bombshell of 2020 – Alex Cora, AJ Hinch and Carlos Beltran out as managers


[updated 1/17/20]

Do cheaters profit?

Just in.  Managers of three of baseball’s perennial organizations have been fired or otherwise parted ways.   For the upcoming season and in the foreseeable future, A.J. Hinch manger of the Houston Astros, Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets will not be watching any baseball games from their respective dugouts.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 28: Manager Alex Cora #20 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates with the World Series trophy after his team’s 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Five to win the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The season for 2020 hasn’t even started yet Commission Robert Manfred dropped the bombshell of the year, and for many it may be the decade or perhaps a lifetime.  His announcement came yesterday morning by concluding the Houston Astros were guilty of a sign or signal calling scheme.

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: Commissioner Rob Manfred next to the podium as Houston Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in game seven to win the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

What!!!  You may ask…..stealing signs, what is that?

 

Ever since sport was created as a competitive exercise many have a “win at any cost” or “whatever it takes to win” mentality.  Fortunately, over time those who have operated to “bend” the rules are usually ferreted out.  Of course, the credibility of fair competition is the result.

 

In most sports there are enough rules and regulations to choke a horse!!!  Yet, the manner of mankind has always found a way to manipulate those rules and regulations as an advantage to them.  Most define that as stone-cold cheating.

 

That is the situation the Houston Astros found themselves in following Major League Baseball’s (MLB) investigation into the signal scheme.

 

The investigation covered the period from 2016 through the present. During the investigation, the DOI interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players.

 

Signs or signals are used to communicate a variety of things during the game.  Metrics or analytics is also used as a complement so that players can be positioned based on sequences, probability or the likelihood of when and where the batter will hit the ball.  Assuming he is lucky enough to make contact.  As difficult as it is to hit a baseball that is coming in at 80 to 90 or even 100 mph, and is also moving requires great skill!  Yet, knowing what kind of pitch is coming in helps improve the odds of being able to make contact or to not swing.   MLB has specific penalties for team’s or player’s who are caught stealing signs.

 

A bird wouldn’t get caught if it never opened its mouth!

 

Interestingly, MLB’s investigation started following an allegation made by a former player of the Astros!!!  As quoted in Manfred’s finding, “On November 12, 2019, former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers publicly alleged in an article published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic that the Astros had engaged in sign-stealing methods in 2017 that violated MLB’s rules.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 1: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

The Astros were dealt swift punishment by Manfred.  Starting with the ownership led by Jim Crane, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager, AJ Hinch also received news they were not expecting.  Surely, more punishment and fallout is expected.  At the top of the lineup is Alex Cora who was a coach with the Astros during the period in question and who subsequently was selected the manager of the 2018 Boston Red Sox.  Many have posed the question?  Did the antics he employed with the Astros go with him to Boston as during his first year they became world champions?  For many the answer is a resounding yes.  As mentioned at the top of this article – Cora and the Red Sox have parted ways.

Then there is Carlos Beltran who was quoted in Manfred’s report but somehow was exonerated from any illegal behavior.  His last team as a player was with the 2017 Astros.   Even though he was not fined by MLB on Thursday Jan. 16th the heat became too much so he and his new employer of just two months, the New York Mets have parted ways.  The result is not only has he lost out as being a freshman manager but now his prospects of being selected into baseball’s coveted Hall of Fame is in jeopardy.

 

The Dodgers

 

To get snakebit once is bad enough.  But, to get snakebit twice in back-to-back years has Dodger fans in disbelief as in 2017 they lost the world series in seven games to the Astros.  Then, in 2018, they again lost the world series in seven games to the Cora managed Red Sox.  For some,  equity is stripping the respective winners of their “title” and awarding the Dodgers as the winners.  Unfortunately, that outcome is highly unlikely.

In the meantime, some fans are so incensed about the scandal they are consulting lawyers claiming it resulted in financial harm from the Astros and Red Sox.  Also, led by City Councilman Gil Cedillo a resolution has been passed seeking MLB’s intervention of stripping titles from the Astros and the Red Sox and renaming the Dodgers as the rightful winner.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 31: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 and bench coach Alex Cora #26 of the Houston Astros talk in the dugout during Game 6 of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

In the meantime, Crane, Luhnow, Hinch and Cora are tied to this disgrace of the national pastime.  Surely other heads will roll and while the scheme is in the lap of the Houston Astros it is unlikely, they were the only participant.  What other teams will be implicated?   In the meantime, stay tuned.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 04: Carlos Beltran stands between General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon after being introduced as manager of the New York Mets during a press conference at Citi Field on November 4, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

READ ROB MANFRED’S FULL REPORT HERE

2019 All Star Game will feature 3 players who are Cuban National


Above photo: ‘Ted Williams, Minnie Minoso’ Boston Red So, baseball player Ted Williams and Cleveland Indians player Minnie Minoso, posed in dugout for 1959 All Star Game, Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 1959. (Photo by Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images)


[Havana]     The 2019 All Star Game (ASG) will feature 15 players that were born outside of the United States.  Behind the Dominican Republic, Cuba is number two and will feature three players who will be part of the July 9th festivities.

For more information on the game click HERE

 


Currently there are 25 players who are Cuban nationals who meet the criteria.  Of the thirty MLB teams, Houston is the leader with five players.


CUBAN NATIONAL PLAYERS ON MLB 40 MAN ROSTER
Teams 2019 2018 2017 Change 2019 v 2018
TOTALS>>> 25 20 0 5
Arizona Diamondbacks 1 0 1 1
Atlanta Braves 0 0 2 0
Baltimore Orioles 0 0 0 0
Boston Red Sox 0 0 1 0
Chicago Cubs 0 0 0 0
Chicago White Sox 3 2 2 1
Cincinatti Reds 3 1 1 2
Cleveland Indians 0 2 1 -2
Colorado Rockies 0 0 0 0
Detriot Tigers 0 1 1 -1
Houston Astros 5 2 0 3
Kansas City Royals 1 0 1 1
Los Angeles Angels 0 1 1 -1
Los Angeles Dodgers 1 2 2 -1
Miami Marlins 0 1 1 -1
Milwaukee Brewers 1 0 0 1
Minnesota Twins 0 0 0 0
New York Mets 2 1 1 1
New York Yankees 3 1 1 2
Oakland Athletics 0 0 1 0
Philadelphia Phillies 0 0 0 0
Pittsburgh Pirates 0 0 0 0
San Diego Padres 0 0 0 0
San Francisco Giants 0 0 0 0
Seattle Mariners 1 2 2 -1
St. Louis Cardinals 1 0 1 1
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2 1 1 1
Texas Rangers 0 0 0 0
Toronto Blue Jays 1 3 0 -2
Washington Nationals 0 0 0 0

Baseball Legend Frank Robinson passes


“Frank Robinson’s resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career.”  Rob Manfred, Commissioner – Major League Baseball  


Baseball legend Frank Robinson passed today at 83.  The announcement was made today by Major League Baseball.  For the past several weeks he was in hospice and while his passing does not come as a surprise, it rekindles the greatness he displayed as a player and all-around talent in major league baseball.

iconic shot from 2016 Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium. Frank also was there to support Mrs. Rachel Robinson and his dear friend Dodgers legend Don Newcombe.

Following in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson, in 1956 Frank broke in with the Cincinnati Reds.  The rest is history.  He was known for his fierce competitive spirit; as a player, a manager and executive within the league.  Robinson shunned fraternization which is prevalent in today’s game.  Perhaps, because players lack the same team loyalty that once was common-place among teams during Robinson’ era.  They move around within the thirty teams at a more frequent pace as putting in more than five years with a team might be considered rare.

 

During Robinson’s era once the players hit the dugout to prepare for the game, it was unheard of for players to greet those from the opposition or even share a positive nod, let alone embrace them…..even though they may have been lifelong friends.

 

While Jackie is known for the player to break the color-barrier in MLB, Frank goes down as the manager who did the same.

“Frank use to tell us, we don’t talk to the other team…..we just beat them!!  Former Oriole teammate and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer

Key moments from Robinson’s career – click HERE

 

Tributes and condolences have started pouring in to acknowledge a life well-lived.  RIP Frank Robinson

Jackie Robinson:  Major League Baseball to feature yearlong celebration


Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919.  Today Major League Baseball (MLB) took the unprecedented step of declaring a full year celebration of his birth.  Throughout the year activities are planned to honor him.

Statues of Jackie Robinson are sprinkled in many parts of the United States. In September 2016 the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture unveiled this statue as part of its exhibit. This 2016 photo showcases Robinson’s iconic slide while stealing home.

While it is noted, Robinson’s fame was created as the first African-American player to break to color-barrier in MLB, his life spanned a career as a great humanitarian.

 

The Experiment

In 1947 history marked Robinson’s entry in joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Branch Rickey is noted as a trailblazer who bucked the racial codes of the time while shepherding Robinson through the rigors needed to perform at a top level.  Rickey and the Dodgers earned their platitudes in history by having the courage to deal with Jim Crow.  Many who understand the game and who have an appreciation of history understand the move had more to do with the economic uplift of MLB versus the benevolence of integrating the game.

 

Like most African-American baseball players of the time they were part of the Negro League organization.  The league was extremely popular among the African-American population who showed their appreciation with solid attendance.  The style of play was more entertaining than MLB.  Players did all types of antics that not only entertained the fans but showcased their athletic prowess.  Things like bunting, stealing a base, doing a double-windup, using the hit-and-run technique were revolutionary at the time.  Thus, the games became a major attraction from the cities they operated.  The parallel is while MLB featured great players showcasing great skills, it lacked to core entertainment value found in Negro League.  Thus, caused a stall in MLB as attendance became stagnant.

Rickey and others were known for their marketing acumen realized integrating the league with the “right players” could boast their economic dilemma.  So, while it is true Rickey gave Robinson the shot, the move created consternation with other Negro League players who were thirsty to showcase their talents on a larger state.  The move was not about who was the best player in the league but who could make the successful transition to MLB and endure all of the hostility and vitriol needed to help defeat segregation and open the door for other players to follow.

Chavez Ravine or Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962. It was not known for statues, however that changed in 2017 as the great statue of Robinson’s iconic slide is now visible for the public to see.

At 52, Jackie Robinson died a relatively young man but his beautiful wife, Rachel has helped to keep his legacy alive and the year long celebration is just one example of how sports transcends society.

Click HERE for a full list of activities.

The Negro Leagues:Cuba Baseball – A perspective


**SPECIAL REPORT**

1st of a 5-part series


For baseball geeks the Negro Leagues offer an interesting study.  Their cultural significance to American history is well documented, while becoming an institution within the Negro community.  It is interesting to note that in 1885 the first Negro League team was named the Cuban Giants.  They were made up of three amateur teams from Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.  As more teams were organized it was the Jim Crow conditions in the United States that led teams to seek out favorable environments such as Cuba, Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.

 

During my presentations on baseball I often emphasize the game is much more than nine players on each team recording twenty-seven outs or until a victor is declared.  Since the game was created it has morphed into a social phenomenon that unfortunately many misdiagnose as being boring, too difficult to understand or simply too long to record a complete game.  Some of those attributes may be true but there is something to be said as more countries have embraced its international popularity.   No doubt, in the United States Major League Baseball (MLB) is dealing with a correction or a decline in game-day attendance.  Even though critics shun the game or offer reasons for unpopularity, it should not be mistaken to infer the end is near!

 

The Negro Leagues were tremendously successful.  Major League Baseball was also successful but realized following World War II their future was in jeopardy.  The greatness of Jackie Robinson is well documented as the first Negro League player to cross over to Major League Baseball.  What gets lost in this historic moment is Robinson’s transition to MLB was indeed a gamble.  But, MLB realized the gamble was more of an opportunity to energize the game that some thought was not exciting enough to draw the type of attendance needed for success.    They pointed to record crowds at Negro League games as well as a more exciting style of play, versus the benevolent tone of Branch Rickey and the desire to integrate the sport as a primary motivation.

Branding = Success

Interesting through the years baseball came to be known as the national sport of Cuba.  Their teams were fearless as they built a reputation as powerful competitors.  Politics aside, their success helped create mystique about the country they represented.

 

Fulfilling a bucket list goal from several years ago I established an action-plan for a more robust evaluation of the Negro Leagues:Cuban baseball, and the impact.  Thus, this series was born with the mandate to provide better documentation on the topic and to offer a perspective of the Intersectionality.

 

1947

 

In the game of baseball 1947 was a critical year.  Jackie Robinson made history as being the first “Negro” (African-American) to play in Major League Baseball.  Interestingly, it also marked the year that Cuba and Major League Baseball reached an agreement for African-Americans and other players to train in their country.

 

Baseball in Cuba today

The famous statue of Armandito “el tintorero”

Cuba still holds swag when discussing top teams in the game.  Currently they are ranked number five in the World Baseball Federation.  Japan is number one and the United States is number two.  However, even though the rankings are fair, what gets lost in the equation is even though Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest populated country at 11 million, except Taipei, the top three countries have populations of 127 million, 325 million and 510 million respectively. So, from my perspective Cuba does an exceptional job in claiming the number five spot based on population size.  Thus, it is no secret the higher your population the larger your pool of potential talent and from a quick analysis one can conclude Cuba gets a lot of “bang for its buck” regarding leveraging its population.

No doubt players from Cuba are defecting so the agreement is great news.  I mean for that kind of money – EXPLOIT ME!!! I would be willing to take a chance for that kind of opportunity because playing for the national team does not even compare!!  YR

Passion

 

The game is the game!  The goal for most amateur players is to earn their way to MLB.  However, style of play of the Negro Leagues and Cuban team have similar attributes.  The same is true with respect to fan behavior.  There is much more visible passion and fan interaction during the game

 

Criticism

While I am proud to be a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I also take pride as a student of the game and its social dynamic.  Baseball is a great game; as long as you understand it.  As mentioned earlier, it can be an excruciating experience for those who lack some of the basic knowledge.  The game has many rules, most noteworthy of “how the game is to be played.”

 

The notion of “how the game is to be played” is a conflict for many players who have finally ascended to MLB status.   In time, most overcome the conflict but for some it’s like trying to walk a tightrope with no pole to hold onto.  The Latin game, the Mexican game and especially the Cuban game is full of non-stop action.  That is especially true for fans.  Player oftentimes stretch their limitations and whether in success or failure, they showcase visible jubilation or frustration.  The MLB game is more tempered and their mantra is players must “respect the game at all times and visible emotions are frowned upon.”   I mean, thank God Yasiel Puig has found a new home with the Cincinnati Reds but during his seven-year stint with the Dodgers he was criticized by more than those who you might think should know better, that he was disrespecting the game with his “antics!!”  In my opinion they are so wrong to marginalize him and other Latin/Caribbean players.  As much as players make efforts to successfully transition, the facts are simple the game is played differently which results in more vested passion from the fans.  I am reminded of how Major League baseball would have reacted when the great Satchel Paige during a Negro League game ordered the seven defenders behind him and the catcher to take a knee leaving what many figured was a team without a defense.  Satchel known for his antics promptly struck out the side of the opposing team, as the defense was not needed.

 

Three games in 2018

 

Part of my trek to Cuba in December 2018 was to meet with baseball officials and ordinary fans of the game.  Luckily my visit coincided with the 58 Cuban National Series, where six teams were set to battle for the ultimate prize. After some juggling of my itinerary I penciled in two tournament games and one amateur softball game that I would be able to attend.

 

 

What a blunder!

1 Pesos = 4 cents

I thought I did my homework so I felt I was well prepared to attend the game at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana featuring Sancti Spiritus versus Industriales.  I knew ticket prices had gone up from three CUCS to five CUCS.  The famed stadium holds about the same as Chavez Ravine home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  However, unlike Chavez Ravine which holds tens of thousands of cars in its parking lot, Latinoamericano is much different as there are more spaces for motorcycles than cars.  Duh!!!  What do you expect when less than 1% of Cubans own cars.  Thus, the mode of transportation for the majority who attend games is by walking, hitching a ride, the bus, bicycle or for those with resources; a motor bike including a few who actually drove to the game.  What was quite a site being what might be considered a “parking lot” had been transformed to an internet hot spot.  The stadium has the feel of any stadium in the U.S. that is tucked into a community.  It is located in the Cerro community of Havana and the pride and joy of the home team.

So back to getting my ticket.  Unlike many stadiums where there are ticket booths with turnstiles and other entry points, Latinoamericano is a bit different.  Adjacent the exterior of the pavilion section you notice a line that has formed.  There is a large see-through fence as there is a lady (staff) and another person who is behind the fence operating from a table and cash box.  Tickets are assembled in packs and as soon as one is sold it is ripped from the paper using a ruler and presto, that is your ticket for entry.

Luckily my embarrassment was short-lived.  All I was focused on was paying my five CUCs ($5).  It never dawned on me the majority of fans would be locals, thus using local currency (pesos or a value of 24:1 in dollars or CUCs).  As the line moved forward it was finally my turn to purchase my ticket.  I spoke in my gringo Spanish that I would like one ticket and was handing the clerk a $20 CUC.  She looked at me in bewilderment as her eyes suggested WTF!!!!!  What am I supposed to do with that!!!!  At first, I thought she simply didn’t have change but then I quickly realized I had given her 2400 pesos when all she needed was one!   I could feel the noise from those behind me trying to figure out why in the heck was it taking me so long just to get one ticket?  Luckily a quick-thinking fan realized my dilemma and abruptly jumped in and told the clerk he would buy my ticket.  She ripped the tickets from the paper and he give me mine and sheepishly I gathered myself and headed to the ticket taker at the gate.  A lesson learned.

 

Once inside I finally found the person I was meeting.  Anyway, I am so glad I brought bags of double-bubble chewing gun and sunflower seeds.  I tossed them around to fans like I was riding a float during Mardi-Gras.

 

A huge difference

As mentioned earlier, MLB is suffering a decline in attendance.  Even though the Dodgers consistently fill up their stadium that is not the case for the majority of the thirty-teams.  As a matter of fact, the Miami Marlins which is in Little Havana of Miami is grateful to get 20-25k fans per game, and their stadium is relatively new!

 

As I scoured the crowd at Latinoamericano I was pleasantly surprised to witness what looked like about 30k fans in attendance.  What was more impressive was the demographics.  Incredibly the majority appeared in the 20-40 age range but there were also, many youth and a nice cross-section of fans who came to root for their respective team and grab some entertainment.  I thought to myself MLB would pay a fortune to get such a mixture?

 

Attending a game in Havana is much different from Dodger stadium or other MLB venues.  First, while the stadium designs are similar, the majority of what you sit on are concrete slabs.  Near the field of play and tucked in between dugouts are the more traditional seats.  As a matter of fact, the higher you go up in the stadium concrete slabs are replaced with metal slats or something you can sit on.

 

Vendors are a plenty as they roam the aisles selling all types of Cuban snacks.  But, perhaps what was a big seller was the colorful vuvuzelas, which the fans demanded so they could join in the chorus of noise that was nonstop from inning to inning.  The vuvuzelas were merely a complement because tucked near the home team dugout was the twelve-piece plus band blaring drums, horns and other musical instruments.  Along with what the fans had, the “rhythm section” provided the juice so the cheerleader and mascot could provide an evening of entertainment while watching a good baseball game.

 

I think I arrived around the 3rd inning.  Either way, the visiting team; Sancti Spiritus had jumped to a six nothing lead.  Perhaps from the motivation of the cheering section, the Industriales woke up and inning by inning fought their way back to tie the game and eventually take a 7-6 lead.

Fany Sanchez (red sweatshirt) and her twin sister join me for a photo at the Viazul bus terminal in Cienfuegos. We all attended baseball game in Havana on Dec. 12th

I found out about the conclusion of the game the next day as I was on the Viazul bus traveling from Havana to my next city, Cienfuegos.  Luckily the young lady sitting next to me also attended the game with her twin sister and boyfriend.  They stayed until the end of the game and told me of the exciting come from behind victory.  She also mentioned they were on their way to Cienfuegos to spend time with their father during the holidays.  More interesting was she mentioned her love for the game was instilled by her dad so she couldn’t wait to see him, as like me that was her first game in person while being in Cuba and she couldn’t wait to share her experience.

 

 

Cienfuegos

 

The visit to Cienfuegos was important as in addition to visiting the stadium where Yasiel Puig played before defecting to Mexico, I had arranged to meet with a person who claimed to know the family very well.  I was surprised to find a cadeca in what appeared to be in a residential area of Cienfuegos.  Lo and behold my contact was there waiting for me and we chatted for nearly an hour.  He was very happy of the success Puig has generated since being a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully proudly nicknamed Yasiel Puig as the “Wild Horse.” Outside of the 5 Septiembre Estadio in Cienfuegos, indeed you will find “Wild Horses” roaming outside of the venue.

After spending the night in Cienfuegos I was set to travel to Trinidad.  Things got a little nervous as the Viazul officer came to the lobby area to announce the bus was running two hours late.  Whoa, this presented a slight wrinkle as my plan of getting into Trinidad before sundown appeared to be in jeopardy.

 

Who said modified fastpitch softball is dead?

 

After arriving in Trinidad I realized my casa particulares was just a couple of blocks from Estadio Rolando Rodriguez.   So, the next morning to my delight a men’s softball game was just starting.  Softball is another dynamic of baseball.  It may look easy, but at a competitive level skill is required to succeed.  The game being played was actually modified fast pitch (the pitcher does not wind up) but offers the ball to the batter at a fast speed, and oftentimes at change of pace, as the batter’s challenge is to adjust the swing to squarely connect with the ball.

 

Santiago de Cuba

 

Along the way to Santiago de Cuba I was able to see estadio’s in Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas and Sancti Spiritus.  As mentioned only six teams were competing in the playoffs.  I had arranged to meet with two baseball locals at the old Bacardi Rum Factory.  Like most Cubans I talk to about baseball, they too were knowledgeable and passionate.  I also was able to make it over to Estadio Guillermon Mocada where the Santiago de Cuba team was practicing.  The stadium was very impressive.

 

One other important interview in Santiago de Cuba included Jose Carmen.  He and his son would be considered die-hard fans, so even though his team was not playing, he invited me to watch a couple of innings of games which were being televised.  Again, very knowledgeable of the finer points of the game.

 

As I made it back to Havana, the third game slated was back at Estadio Latinoamericano.  Holguin would be squaring off against the Industriales.  After my first blunder of not understanding the cost of MY ticket, I came prepared so I purchased 4 tickets with my $10 pesos and gladly handed out the 3 extra tickets to delighted strangers who had been in line to grab their ticket.

 

The amazing thing about attending a game in Cuba or specifically at Estado Latinoamericano is the large crowds and the passion on display.  Luckily, they won the game as from my conversation from the young lady I met on the bus ride to Cienfuegos, I would be treated to something I had never seen!!!  As the game ended the players came out of the dugout to congratulate those on the field, it was cleared and the Lion mascot delighted those like me who stuck around.  He pretended to swing at a pitch and circled the bases and ended in a head first victory slide finishing up near the visitors’ dugout.

 

On a sad note, before entering the stadium I grabbed some water at a store which was directly across the street.  To my surprise, I ran into Sergio Luis Pulido Pozo who prides himself as a knowledgeable fan.  He was drawn to chat as I was wearing my Los Angeles Dodgers cap, so he enthusiastically remarked how proud he was of Yasiel Puig and other Cuban players who were making a positive impact.  He also mentioned his support of the agreement announced several days earlier between MLB and the Cuba Baseball Federation, where Cuban nationals would not have to forego their affiliation with their country.

As the game ended, I headed to a hotspot as I needed to update my wife of my schedule.  It was then, she announced the Dodgers had traded Yasiel Puig and others to the Cincinnati Reds.  She was devastated so I wrapped up and headed back to the store to get Sergio’s reaction.  Unfortunately, it was near 11 o’clock and he had already wrapped up his shift.

 

With the new MLB agreement with Cuba, will their organization go the same way as the Negro Leagues?

 

To be continued…………………………………..