At 4:20 p.m. of March 1, 2017, there are no shouts of “Homerun” in Cuban streets as used to happen before. In the park, in the street, in the plot of land, the only that unmistakable word heard: “Goooooal!” Like that, in the style of Andrés Cantor, with as many o’s as the throat is possible to articulate.
This has been happening for a long time, and will continue to happen. Soccer has taken over the armchair, and is governing with the same authoritarian arrogance given to it by the sport presidency in Russia, Chile or Senegal. Young Cubans – to confirm it you don’t have to be a genius – prefer it over that holy beast that is called baseball.
Always so concentrated on the tree instead of the forest, the island’s journalists once and again regret the situation. They say a campaign is needed to return the throne to baseball, they appeal to concepts like tradition and national pride, reminding us that it was linked to the wars of independence.
They don’t say it because it would be a show of self-criticism, but, here and now, our own media is the main culprit that soccer is knocking out baseball.
The scale has tilted because there is a coarse imbalance in the supply. That is to say, we spend the month watching the good kind of soccer, and once a week – just once – an international baseball game (which is not of the Major Leagues, by the way, because some wise guy-know it all decided that it would be better to offer us the tournaments of the Caribbean or the Mexican League).
We are so attached to soccer that we watch the Barcelona-Real Madrid classics live when in Spain itself those matches are absent from public television. We watch the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, the Premier and the Bundesliga. We watch documentaries about Ronaldinho, and shorts with the best of Andrés Iniesta or Paul Scoles, and we practically broadcast all the World and European soccer championships.
Visit any Havana barrio and you will see that in the youngsters’ gatherings soccer is discussed. If before the island was divided into the pro Industriales and pro Santiago teams, now they are more fans of the Barça and the Madrid teams. Check it out. Ask about the last five champions of the domestic baseball series, and very few kids will be able to give you an answer. Then ask them about the Real Madrid and Barcelona teams and they will answer with a wealth of details, adding a string of opinions about the changes that the TDs could make, the personal matters of each team member or the possible trades of the market.
I remember it as if it were today. In the 1980s those of us who wanted to be abreast of what was happening in soccer could only take hold of an old venerable magazine, El Deporte en la URSS, and to content ourselves with brief, pathetic reports in the National Sports TV Newscast (foreign radio stations were a sign of ideological deviations, therefore the best thing was not to tune in to them).
Not now. Today there is soccer from the aperitif to dessert, and any legitimate fan knows there no longer is a Neymar or Zlatan, but rather substitute players from the Milan, the Manchester City or the Valencia. The fever – which is a healthy fever – has spread, and there are no signs of generating the same effect in favor of baseball.
Return now to the street. Go to the same gathering, ask at random about some baseball players (let’s say Brandon Crawford, Paul Goldschmidt, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Correa, Buster Posey….), and you’ll see that – with luck – they will identify one or two of those stars, and to top it off, they’re not even able to be lavish with comments about the lineups, contracts or clubhouses.
The culprit, I repeat, is the supply. In terms of the Major Leagues, the Cuban public suffers from a news anemia. They generally have no knowledge about the players, the managers, the teams. Their familiarization is limited to some illustrious veterans who have been in the World Classics, or the compatriots who left the country in search of fortune and recognition. Say the name of Mike Trout, who is the Lionel Messi of baseball, and it will not ring a bell for the immense majority.
And why the senselessness? What is the pretext for this nonsense (as my friend Ismael Sené says) illustrated by Salvador Dalí and written by Franz Kafka? There are no Cubans scattered around the European soccer leagues, but there are Cubans – and quite a lot – in the MLB. Over there they have become millionaires, they decide games, distribute hits and homeruns…. Over there they triumph (not all of them, but some do) and it doesn’t seem appropriate to give the local public that triumphant image. Therefore zero Major Leagues.
There will come a day in which it will be necessary stop the blindness. Fortunately, then the doors of Cuban television will be opened for U.S. baseball with a frequency similar to that of the Spanish League, and homeruns and goals will come hand in hand, by waves, to the happiness of the fans.
Starting that day – which should not be faraway – the people will be able to enjoy in June the finals of the Champions and, in October, the Major League World Series. Then the painful reality that in Cuba the feats of a son of Andalusia (Sergio Ramos, from the Real Madrid) are thunderously celebrated will no longer be repeated, nor will people almost not find out that the final game of the Major Leagues was won by a player from Holguín called Aroldis Chapman.