A young boy returns to his native country of Cuba after attending school abroad in The United States. Little did this young man know that the two items that he would bring home from his stay in the U.S., would help change the face, culture, and professionalism of an entire country. The boys name was Nemiso Guillo, and the two items he brought back all the way from Mobile, Alabama were a baseball bat and ball……the year was 1864.
Would you ever have thought that by 1964, the people of Cuba have been playing baseball for a hundred years? I am not sure many people would know that, I mean after all Baseball is Americas game, but not for long. Cuba like most countries has extremely proud people, whether it be politics, music, or in this case baseball, or as they say it in Cuba “Beisbol”. As years went on, Cuban people were also introduced to baseball by way of ship. Kids and adults used to wait by the ports of Cuba just to play a game of baseball with American sailors. In 1871 we had our first import of Cuban baseball. After the Spanish authoroties try to ban baseball in Cuba, Cuban baseball legend and hero Esteban Bellan flees Cuba and arrives in America to play semi-pro baseball with the Troy Haymakers. He would eventually play for the New York Mutuals making him the first Latin baseball player in Major League Baseball.
Some Cubans rebelled against Spanish authorities in many ways, but most Cubans found that baseball was a quieter way of rebelling against Spanish authorities. Spnish authorities would force The Cuban public to attend bullfighting as a symbol of patronage, which made the Cuban people play baseball even more ferociously then they already were. Spain could not stop these determined athletes for long, so on December 27, 1874 the first official game was played, at the Palmar del Junco, in Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas. Club Habana defeated Club Matanzas 51-9, in 9 straight innings. Ironically enough the founder of the Club Habana would be a young man by the name of Nemiso Guillo. Remember him? As time went on The United States and Cuba would carry the torch and become the ambassadors of baseball. Bringing baseball to Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, and The Dominican Republic, all before the turn of the century.
Barnstorming would reach Cuba’s shores as well, featuring “The American All-Stars” with Hall Of Fame player/manager John Mcgraw. Barnstorming was a term used by sideshows, political campaigns, vaudeville acts, or in some cases baseball. It was a way to take baseball on the road to play exhibition games,scout players, make a little money, and travel in the off season. This also gave The Negro Leagues a chance to play other teams during its time of segregation from Major League Baseball by traveling abroad to the baseball loving island of Cuba. As time moved on baseballs popularity in Cuba would branch out to many different groups much like America. Soon the woman of Cuba had their own professional league also. When the AAGBL (All American Girls Baseball League , which included The Peaches , The Belles , and The Daisy’s ) visited in 1947, they drew more fans then the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers!!! Several Cuban girls like Luisa Gallegos,Isabel Alvarez, and Mirtha Marrero, would leave Cuba to play in America.
Decades past, and like most countries political powers would create tension among one another, and eventually effect its own people. In the 1960’s known as “ The Redball Era “ , Cuba stopped professionalism in sports. Cuban officials decided to model their programs after the Soviet system by creating sports academies and schools, so that they could mold and create only the most elite players. Then the Cuban government would take it one step further by closing it’s doors completely., by not allowing players to play in other countries in support of their Soviet counterpart, forcing athletes to defect and live in exile. Cuban players are still defecting to other countries with no guarantees of making it. In 1939 The Cuban Baseball Hall Of Fame was created to honor the men, women, and teams who played the game. Cuban players have been inducted in many halls of fame from The Mexican, The Negro League, and The National Baseball Hall Of Fame. Baseball is now recognized in 117 countries around the globe and counting. So the next time you’re thinking about visiting another country, looking at a map, or studying for a geography test , baseball is being played right in front of you. So do us a favor here at Through The Fence Baseball…..please tip your cap.