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Back to baseball

20 October 2014

So it’s been a few days. Manuel, my landlord, came to my door Thursday to tell me the Industriales were back in Havana and playing at 7 against Sancti Spiritus! Of course I went.

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$3 to get in plus $5 for a ride from Manuel in his Peugeot is a bit steep compared to $1 MN (a nickel) for Cubans, but $8 for a professional baseball game is pretty good.

LANGUAGE NOTES: I keep running into some guy on the street who wants to sell me cigars. His English led to some inadvertent truth in advertising when he assured me they were “very cheat.” Mmmhm. I am sure they are, senor.

I went to the movies yesterday. A hustler caught up with me after. I told him I’d seen “Solo,” and that it was OK. He said the other film playing, “Mea Culpa,” sounded better. I said it was in French and I didn’t know enough Spanish for the subtitles.

“You don’t speak French?” he said, a bit surprised.

I’m a product of the American public education system, I said. It’s a miracle I speak English, let alone the limited Spanish I do.

BACK TO BASEBALL: I had a hard time buying my ticket because my $20 bill was too big, they couldn’t break it. Finally they went to see about getting some change for me.

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While waiting, I saw a guy in a Mariners hat and struck up a conversation with him. He was visiting from Calgary, Alberta, and looking into the feasibility of starting a business in Veradero -- the very rich, touristy area -- with hot air balloon tours.

I figured he may have some difficulty in getting the idea off the ground (har!) due to the authorities probably thinking he’d be floating Cubans across the Straits of Florida to Miami, but wished him luck all the same. It is a pretty good idea, and would definitely fill a niche.

We sat together for the game and he told me his name was Rick and that he’d been taken for about $500 by a woman -- buying her a cellphone, baseball gear for her kid, etc. I found myself thinking about how we (white tourists) must just seem like walking ATMs to some Cubans.

I got to wondering about where Rick the Canadian and I would land on a list of wealthiest people by liquid assets in Cuba.

Even though I’m not USA rich, by the standards of Cuba I am. So, where on the list? The Hotel Nacional is filled with people who can afford $200 a night, much like the Habana Libre, Hotel Inglaterra, etc. so we’re up against some stratospheric wealth for sure. Maybe we’re not even in the top 2,000 or even 5,000 but in a country of 11 million, we’re almost certainly “the 1 percent.” Ugh.

Anyway. The Industriales won 5-1. The atmosphere in the stadium was really intense -- the hardcore fans sit behind their team’s dugout (Industriales down the third-base line, visitors on the first-base side) and have horns on bicycle tire pumps they use constantly. It’s like a flock of Canada geese. One Havana section has a Fireman Ed of sorts who led the fans in singing and chants at various points.

The stadium itself goes 325 to the poles, 345 deepening to 380 in the power alleys, and 400 to straightaway center.

Not a lot of power hitting on display the first two games; a lot of ground ball outs and liners between fielders for hits and one home run either night.

The third and final game of the series, however, had four jonrones, including, I swear to God, a broken-bat home run. Also among the four was the first grand slam I think I’ve ever seen live.

That one came in the top of the ninth as the Industriales tried to close the door on a 6-3 win for the sweep of Sancti Spiritus. Instead, they wound up surrendering NINE runs in the ninth to lose 12-6.

It was the first home loss of the season for Los Azules, as it turned out, and boy did the stadium quiet down during that inning.

I’d met an Indonesian studying in Australia on Friday night and he joined me Saturday, too, for the final. It says a lot about the atmosphere and the overall draw of live sports that a guy who didn’t know much of the game (“I have seen ‘Moneyball,’ though.”) came to two games.

“Why are people leaving?” he said at one point in the disastrous ninth. “Haven’t they ever seen a Disney film?”

Not a total loss, though, as I bought an Industriales T-shirt. Made of the finest Cuban materials, so I will probably buy more for backups.

They also have merch from the Metropolitanos, a team that used to share Latin American Stadium with the Industriales but were disbanded to make room for new teams: Artemisa and Mayabeque. I’ll have to get some of their merch, too, because come on -- throwback Cuban baseball goods?! How can I say no?

Saturday night was also a free concert in Plaza Vieja. Cuban electronica, no less. It was only the second concert ever in Plaza Vieja to boot. The band was I.A., after the two initials of the members: Alexei, who does the fiddly bits with the computers to make the noises, and … I-something, who sings.

The inestimable Conner Gorry’s Havana Good Time app had some warnings about the area surrounding Plaza Vieja being full of drunk Cubans on weekend nights and to be a little more cautious if you’re out and about, so I was on high alert as I walked to the plaza.

The usual cobblestone streets had been torn up for restorations so the only thing I seemed to be at risk of was twisting an ankle on the uneven dirt. That or stepping in a ubiquitous pile of (please be) dog shit or a puddle of piss.

As I drew nearer, I heard someone shouting seemingly random numbers (“Uno, tres, dos! Dos seis uno tres!” etc.) to a pounding beat. This was unexpected.

Another song had a bit about “sing like a cat meowwww,” and another went “We are soldiers! Arf arf meow meow.”

“Experimental” lyrics, to be sure, and I had a good laugh imagining some Soviet-era bureaucrat trying to figure out what, exactly, the fuck.

But goddamn did they jam. I’d see them again in a heartbeat and if I can find a CD I’ll buy one.

Chau!