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Baseball in Cuba - A way of evangelising by humanising

02/06/2011: Cuba

Baseball is also known in Cuba as « the ball » or even « the passion ». In fact, like any « passion », it is what Cubans give up last when they lack time, and what they place first when they have free time. It is also « the ball ». Attention to the article « the » which relegates other sports, whatever they may be, to the back bench.

Without a doubt, baseball is the preferred sport of the people. It has countless virtues and attractions: it promotes athletic and also artistic development (it is a real ballet), it uses up free time in a street activity which relaxes, amuses and et distracts (tell that to the countless groups playing « taco » on street corners, with a ball which can be reduced to a mass of papers or to a plastic top, and a broom handle for bat).  Baseball is also the arena allowing the exchange of animated verbal duels, in which the gladiators display their prodigious memories in recalling endless statistics.

One cannot be an educator in Cuba and not know the ball. What is more, I dare to say that an educator can find in it a marvelous springboard for humanisation and evangelisation.

These facts and reflections have led our Marist community to welcome onto our little 10  by 30 metres sports ground every Friday afternoon children between 10 and 11 years old.

Training starts about 4. 30, when the children arrive hurriedly after the week’s classes. They get into line and training begins with the appropriate patriotic words. The dimensions of our ground only allow some warm up exercises, ball throwing, etc.

In the theoretical part, we review the mistakes made in the previous game, spell out the rules and clarify them, and we congratulate the good players. Then we encourage the athletes to grow in the qualities we want to promote: discipline, concentration and team spirit. Each of these words conceals a programme of human and spiritual growth.

 Discipline implies punctuality and order. Concentration requires being very attentive to know when one should tag the player, where one should throw the ball to get an « out », etc. Team spirit implies supporting the player who makes mistakes.

We finish the training with a salutation like the one we started with, we all shake hands and make a rendez-vous for 7’oclock the following morning.

At 7, one can already hear the voices of the first athletes arriving, dressed in their best, to let everyone know they are « peloteros » (baseball players). Some wear frayed caps, others  pants tucked into their socks, those who can have a number painted or sewn on their backs. We sit on the steps in front of our sports ground and give the last instructions before the  match.

Then we take our two backpacks which hold a precious treasure: nine gloves, three balls, a  mascot, a left hand glove, the tools of the « catcher », face and breast guards, and finally the bat, and we go to the grounds of the neighbouring quarter of Tulipán. On the way, the children comment on the feats of the previous week’s match and tell anecdotes about the national series and the fantastic team of the « elephants » of Cienfuegos who walk clear at the top of the championship.

To reach the Barrera ground, we have to go along about a dozen blocks. The little players walk proudly; for a few hours they belong to the highest level of the human species. Some passersby call out: « There goes the future team of Cuba », while others attack: « They are going to get skinned again! » And they begin to dream…

At 8. 30, it is the moment of truth. With children of eleven to twelve we play five rounds quietly enough; with older ones, on the contrary, one plays hard, and seven rounds. With all its faults, our ground looking like the mountains of Russia seems to stand comparison with the « Latino »

At la Barrière, we always find Francisco Cantero, « the glory of the sport », waiting for us. He is an exceptional person who loves baseball and children and believes that through sport it is possible to dream of a greater homeland. From him we have learned how to hold the bat and handle the glove, but also how to run and keep off the sun… and, most importantly,  responsability, sporting pride and love of the homeland.

For two hours, the complications of everyday life fade away: worries, health problems,  exams or home strife are banished to limbo; only the ball exists. It is impressive to see how the young players attempt – and sometimes succeed – the « squeeze play » and the « double play » and hope to obtain first « strike ». A good crowd of neighbours and passersby take on themselves the role of commentators on the  match from the surrounding streets.

If victory smiles on us, we celebrate by gathering on the little mound of the « pitcher » and throwing our caps in the air. If, on the contrary, we are beaten, we hang our heads and stay silent. We finish the game lined up before the « home » base, and listen to the analyses  Francisco Caballero and each of the trainers make of the match. We mention not only the sporting deficiencies and merits, but also the positive and negative aspects of the conduct, the virtues and values displayed in the game. We congratulate the deserving players and shake hands. When we win, the natural instinct of some players is to mock the opposition. To make children aware that a good player is not one who mocks a rival but rather one who congratulates the opposition takes a long time.

On the way back to the house, we comment on the match, savouring our victory or letting the disappointment of defeat evaporate. We talk about the mistakes and the « homeruns », about the ones who failed at the moment of truth and the ones who lived up to their task; « so and so saved us », « such a one smoothed the course to victory », « put me down as batter for the next game », « what suits me is the short (stop) », etc.

Everything finishes again in the Marist house with a glass of iced water from the carafe left in the refrigerator by Estrellita, our kindly cook. And rendez-vous is made for next Friday.

I believe that the ball is a way to evangelize by humanising. And also a way of showing a new face of the Church, of being Church.

Br. Carlos Martínez Lavín, fms.

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