There’s no mistaking that Cubans are passionate people. You see it in the way they talk, dance and live their lives. But there’s one common element that can bring this country to a fever pitch: baseball. The sport originally landed in Cuba in the 1860s along with students returning from studies abroad at U.S. universities and with American sailors pulling into Cuban ports. Baseball took the island nation by storm and has firmly rooted itself in Cuban culture.
In 1874, the first official Cuban baseball match was played in Matanzas at the Palmar del Junco stadium, which is still in use. The Cuban League was founded in 1878 and in 1899 professional players from the league formed the All Cubans, which was the first Latin American team to tour the United States.
After the Revolution in 1960, the Cuban government abolished professional sports, but boosted the status of amateur sport to a symbol of national pride. The promise of U.S. salaries incentivized several of Cuba’s top amateur stars to defect to U.S. teams in the 1990s during Cuba’s darkest years of economic crisis. This was a source of hostility and tension on the part of Cuban fans, including the Cuban government. But nevertheless, on the island baseball continues to be a part of Cuban lifeblood and national pride, right along with salsa, cigars and rum.