LA PELOTA

1 02 2011

La pelota (the ball) is what Cubans call baseball, their national sport, about which they are every bit as fanatical as the English are about football. I have been learning about the game in my Spanish classes at the university and have now been to two games here in Santiago. I had never been to a game before, or watched one on TV, so had no idea about the rules or objectives of the game

. A friend accompanied me to the first game and gave me a running commentary, so I now have a rough idea of what is going on. The first game that I went to was Santiago v Granma. When we were queuing for our tickets, a woman called us over and said that we had to go into a special section for foreigners, even though my friend is Cuban. The price for the foreigners’ section was 3 CUC each (about £2.16), compared to 1 CUP (£0.03) in the main section. The foreigners’ section was at pitch level, so the view was not very good and the players not on the pitch were practising in front of us, obscuring our view. The seats were not very comfortable and when I put my foot on the wall in front of me, to make myself more comfortable, I was told by a policeman to take it down. There was no atmosphere at all where we were and we were a long way from the main section, where the crowd were making a lot of noise. There was nowhere in our section to buy refreshments, so in order to buy some drinks I had to leave the stadium and enter the main section, then return with them. All in all, it was not a very enjoyable afternoon.

 This weekend, Santiago were playing the biggest team in the country, Los Industriales, from Havana, the current champions. I thought that I would try again, but this time went alone. When I went to queue for my ticket, again a woman called me over and told me there was a section for tourists. I said that I was not a tourist. She asked if I had residency and I replied yes, temporary residency, as a student. She said that the tourist section was more comfortable, but I replied that I did not like it because there was no atmosphere and you could not buy food or drink. She seemed impressed with my temporary residency and allowed me to pay 1 CUP admission and go into the main section.

The seating in the main section is mostly on the concrete steps, but is more comfortable than the seats, because the steps are wider. People also had their feet on the wall in front, without being reprimanded. I would estimate that the crowd (based on my many years’ experience of English lower league football) was about 3000, which surprised me, because I had expected a bigger crowd for such a big game. There were people passing through the crowd throughout the game selling peanuts, sandwiches, chocolate, sweets, cakes and chewing gum. There was a small group of Industriales supporters, who made much noise and spent their time teasing and taunting the local fans. However, they were not segregated and, unlike in English football, where this would have led to fights, the local fans responded with good humour and there was a friendly, non-aggressive atmosphere.

 Another contrast with English football was the complete absence of commercialism – no team sponsors’ logos emblazoned on the team’s shirts, no advertisements (just signs calling for the release of the five Cuban heroes in US jails) and no special seats reserved for commercial organisations. It was quite refreshing and reminded me of the English football of my childhood.

 Unfortunately, despite playing well, Santiago lost, as they had on each of the previous two days (there are three games against each team, played on consecutive days). The conduct of the team will be widely discussed throughout the city over the coming days, because most Santiaguerros (like the Habaneros and the people of every other city) consider themselves experts and will offer their analysis of where the team went wrong. The real excitement comes at the end of the season, where the top four teams from the east, along with the top four from the west, compete in the play-offs for the season’s championship.

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One response

19 02 2011
Michael N. Landis

Enjoyed your post. About five years ago I attended a night game @ Guillermon Moncada, Santiago vs Ciego de Avila. The night prior, on tv, I saw Ciego beat Santiago by something like 2 to 1 (a real duel by the lanzadores), but the night I went Santiago beat Ciego by something like 16 to 2! If my memory serves me right, just like Little League up here, when the game is really one-sided they stop it the end of the 7th inning, rather than prolong the obvious! I got seats through one of the owners of my casa (“Hostal Neda” San Francisco # 524, e/ San Augustin y Reloj), who is a prof. of sports training). He managed to get us seats at level with the field, between home plate and first base. As you indicated, the interplay between the fans were as entertaining as what went on on the field!

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