Estadio Latinoamericano (Havana)
Home of the Industriales and the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
Built in 1946, Estadio Latinoamericano is the Yankee Stadium of Cuba in several ways. It's the largest ballpark in Cuba and used for the biggest events, and the home team, Los Industriales, is certainly the Yankees of Cuba. They have won more league championships (12) than any other team (Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Rio have both won nine titles) and are usually the favorite each year.
Estadio Latinoamericano is by far the largest ballpark in Cuba, with a capacity of 55,000. The entire grandstand is covered, and there are open bleachers in the outfield. The game we saw in this park were well attended, with most seats full between the bases, and many fans further down the lines, but the bleachers were empty. Seating behind home consists of blue wooden seats, very old, and certainly a little cramped by modern American standards.
Known locally as the Colossus of Cerro and Gran Stadium, Estadio Latinoamericano is where Cuban and American baseball history intersect. It opened in 1946, and the following year hosted Brooklyn Dodgers spring training; the Pittsburgh Pirates would hold 1953 spring training at the ballpark as well. It's also a former Triple-A International League ballpark, with the Havana Sugar Kings setting up shop there between 1954 and 1960. Owned by the legendary Bobby Maduro -- whose name would grace an historic old minor-league ballpark in Miami -- the Sugar Kings hosted a notorious pro baseball game on July 25, 1959, where soldiers celebrated the 26th of July Movement with gunfire from the stands, nicking Rochester Red Wings coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo Cardenas. The Sugar Kings would end up winning the Little World Series that year, defeating the American Association's Minneapolis Millers in a series that saw Havana players start a fire in a trashbin at the old Nicollet Park because of the cold temps. The following season MLB Commissioner Ford Frick ordered the Sugar Kings be moved to Jersey City after Castro nationalized Cuban industries. (That team would end up moving first to Jacksonville and then to Norfolk, now playing as the Norfolk Tides.) In 1999 the Cuban National Team hosted the Baltimore Orioles in an historic series.
It is an interesting place to watch a fame. Directly behind home plate is a VIP seating area, accessible from under the grandstand, separated by gates and plants, with even rows of newer plastic seats. This area included retired players, and team, league and local officials. Seating beyond the bases, and the entire outfield, consists of benches. Four very large light standards surround the outfield, but are apparently sufficient to light the entire field, since there are no light standards behind the infield.
A two-level press box is located behind the home plate area seats. The older press box is at seat level, and the newer one hangs above that, suspended from the roof. The team has a great band that provides very danceable music when Los Industriales are at bat. (You can see them at the top of this story.) Dugouts at all the parks we visited are at field level, and are surrounded by banners, the Cuban flag, and a sign indicating "Home Club" or "Visitor." Batboys are not boys, but mostly much older men, looking more like the septuagenarian "Ball Dudes" at the Giants games. Los Industriales have a Lion mascot, but mascots were not evident at other parks we visited. The other Havana team, Los Metropolitanos, are a lot like the Mets. They have a loyal following, but usually play in a much smaller park (Estadio Santiago "Changa" Maderos, which we'll cover next).
The Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame is located under the grandstand of Estadio Latinoamericano. It's relatively small, and the largest feature is a full-wall mural of Fidel Castro showing his batting stance in front of a large Cuban flag, with palm trees and white doves. There are murals depicting Cuban baseball history and busts of Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame members, including Martin Dihigo.
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