The importance of Cuban baseball and political policies of Communist Cuba go hand in hand with each other. No activity or business has been more affected by the embargo the United States enforces on Cuba than the thousands of Cuban baseball players who have been forced to play for national pride and sacrifice the opportunity to make millions of dollars all in the name of Castro and the Revolution. It is interesting to view the emphasis both the Communist party and the people of Cuba have placed on the game. Baseball has become the ultimate source of Nationalism and pride for the island of Cuba, yet the Castro regime has severely crippled the game over the past four decades of dictatorship. One is left to wonder what might have been for the countless number of great ball players whose skills and abilities have gone unnoticed outside of Cuba due to the imprisonment of their talent.
Baseball in Cuba, both professional and amateur, has a long history dating back to the 1860Õs when Nemesio Guillo introduced the first bat and baseball to Cuba in 1864. Guillo is widely recognized as the father of Cuban baseball (Jamail 16). Guillo helped organize the first professional baseball game in Havana in 1874. Estaban Bellan, the first Latin American to play professional baseball in the United States, also participated in that landmark game. The national pride that Cubans get from baseball can be traced to the Spanish occupation in the 19th century. The Spanish did not play baseball and referred to it as a Òrebel gameÓ (Jamail 16). The reason it was called this was due to the fact that the players used the opportunity to collect money for the fight for independence from Spain and the baseball field served as a meeting place for planning. Baseball was what clearly distinguished Cubans from the Spaniards, and this is where the deep passion and love for the game became instilled in Cubans (Jamail 16). Ironically, baseball also appealed to the national pride of Cuba because it came from the United Sates, which represented modernity and progress, and was distinct from the inhumanity and backwardness associated with the Spanish sport of bullfighting (Jamail 16).
In 1868, Nemesio along with his brother Eernesto, helped found the Habana Base Ball Club, the Habana B.B.C. In 1872, Habana B.B.C. became the first professional babeball club and was joined by the Matanzas professional club in 1874, the same year the first baseball stadium in Cuba was built, Palmar de Junco, sixty miles east of Havana (Jamail 18). Another club, Almendares Base Ball Club was formed in 1878 and the first organized professional baseball championship was played. Baseball needed to be a professional sport so that the workingÐclass players could compete and earn a living. However, amateur baseball worked alongside professional for many years, as leagues were organized by sugar mills and the employees were giving full-time jobs, subsidzed living, and time off to play baseball (Jamail 18).
The relationship of baseball between Cuba and the United Sates dates back to 1878, when the Almandares B.B.C. played a team from Massachusetts. The New York Giants visited Cuba in 1900 and palyed exhibition games against the Brooklyn Dodgers as well as a Cuban all-star team (Jamail 18). An interesting fact to note is the Dodgers use of Cuba as their spring training facility in 1947. As most baseball fans know, the year is significant abecause the Dodgers crossed baseballÕs color lines when they broke in a rookie named Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers used Cuba as an alternative to their normal spring training complex in then-segregated Florida as a way to relax Robinson so that he would feel more at ease with his unprecedented breaking of baseballÕs color barrier (Jamail 19). This relationship has become almost non-existent today because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the reluctance of the Cuban government to allow Cubans to play in the United States. The only way Cubans can now play for...
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