Baseball is known as something very typical for United States, but if you aren’t a big fan of this sport, you most probably didn’t know that top5 baseball countries in the world are (not in this order) USA, Japan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Surprisingly this sport of the „imperialistic enemy“ (as they sometimes call USA) is the national sport of Cuba and became famous on the Island during the late 19th century when Cubans wanted to gain independency from the Spanish Empire. At this time Cuba wasn’t yet a country, but many people already identified themselves as Cubans. Everything what was Spanish was hated and USA became an example of how Cubans wanted their country to be. During this time they started to play baseball and of course, very soon the Spanish governor prohibited it.
In the year 1898 Cuba gained its independence and it was time to establish Cuban baseball league. It weren‘t cities who had their baseball teams, but sugar factories (sugar was leading export article of Cuba during this time).
In the 50s there was a very good team called Havana Sugar Kings. They’ve been so good, that they decided not to play the Cuban league, but the second league in the USA. They have been doing really good. Unfortunately this time wasn’t the best time for the Cuban people. The Island became a place where almost everything was owned by Americans, American mafia had a lot of business there and Fulgencio Batista became the dictator. Cuban people were having pretty hard time and that lead to the famous Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro and his comrades arrived like winners to Havana and the country started to turn its back to the USA. In the year 1959 it was not only the Revolution that succeeded, Sugar Kings won the second league in the USA and the next year they were supposed to play the first league. But they had to choose because according to the new Cuban politics, Cuban teams shouldn’t play in the USA. In the end they left Cuba and they haven’t been the only ones.
Fidel Castro was a big fan of baseball, just like every other Cuban man. When Cuban national team was playing, he was very often sitting on the bench with players. Baseball was used to promote many reforms as well. For example the agricultural reform or privatization of all American companies – they took everything from Americans, in order to give it to the Cuban state. This lead to the political embargo towards Cuba in the year 1962.
After the embargo started, baseball in Cuba was struggling. Many players left the Island in order to play in better conditions, there haven’t been any balls or bats because all these things were made in the USA. Professional league became amateur and that meant that the players weren’t paid for playing anymore, they travelled in old busses and stayed in horrible hotels.
The year 1980 was interesting for Cuba. The Peruvian embassy gave asylum to four Cubans that entered forcefully the building of the embassy in Havana. Fidel Castro thought “You want them Peru? Than take them.” he called of the security from the entrance and thousands of Cubans entered to ask for asylum in the following days. But most of them didn’t leave Cuba to go to Peru, but directly to the USA. Many baseball players have been between them. Coaches of the American teams somehow found out and were waiting for the players in the ports where their boats were arriving already with contracts. There was a big fight for them.
Unfortunately, in Cuba politics has a strong influence even in sport and in the Cuban National team are allowed to play only players from the Cuban league. Who knows how good they would be if they could take Cuban players from other leagues as well. Many say that the best players in NBA are indeed Cubans. What do you think?