CRACK! goes the bat as the batter runs to first base. Today was day five of our Cuba study abroad program, and we are at game one of a five-game series between the Cuban National Ball Club and the USA Collegiate National Team held at the Latin American Stadium in Havana.
Baseball is a symbol of Americana. However, it is also Cuba’s No. 1 sport and is taken very seriously. You might have heard of Canseco, Alonzo, and Pena—all hailing from Cuba. After we pay our three CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) for a ticket, we find our way to the bleacher seats and settle in. As we get comfortable, we take pictures while some Cubans smile at us holding up an American flag. Soon after, a stadium representative approaches us and escorts us to box seats. Not hesitating, we resettle in as Cubans ask us where we are from and to autograph their baseballs.
Due to rain delay, the game started at 10:00 p.m. In spite of continuous use of air horns and other noisemakers, we watched as zeroes illuminated the scoreboard under each inning. We soon experienced the intensity of Cuban baseball. Like Americans, Cubans fervently run to fly balls, have heated discussions with fellow spectators, eat popcorn and snacks, and ask for autographed baseballs from players. Laura, in our group, taught a young Cuban girl how to say “autograph” in English. The girl then ran to a USA team player and asked for his autograph. He said he would give it to her soon. She was so excited while she ran back to Laura and she squealed, “Thank you!”
We found solidarity with the Cubans as we learned that “Strike!” works for both languages, as well as boisterously yelling as it happens to a full, un-contacted swing. In the sixth inning, we witnessed a grand slam by USA player No. 5. Everyone got up and cheered. Our Cuban neighbor gave us a high five as recognition of a job well done. The game ended with a 4-3 win for US.A
Without a doubt, this part of our trip will be one of my most favorite memories. Finding human connections in a foreign country is rewarding for both traveler and local. However, one thing I will not be sad to hear again for a while is the sound of another air horn.