Professor speaks of Cuba and baseball

Delving into the history of baseball in Cuba, comparative literature professor Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria spoke about the Cuban origins of America’s favorite pastime to a handful of people at La Casa Cultural Monday night.

Despite baseball’s prominence in the United States, Echevarria said Cuba was the center of the sport from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century.

“What most people don’t know is that in Cuba, baseball is officially the national sport,” Echevarria said.

Baseball first appeared in Cuba in 1864 when young Nemiso Guillo brought back the first baseball and bat from Springfield, Ala. where he had completed his university studies, Echevarria said. Guillo was one of many young Cubans who introduced baseball to his countrymen.

“All of these young men brought the game back to Cuba, mostly in the Havana region,” Echevarria said.

The sport “caught on like an epidemic” in Cuba and the first Cuban baseball club was formed in Havana in 1868, Echevarria said. By the 1870s, there was an intense rivalry between Club Havana and Club Almendares, two major Cuban baseball clubs.

“It lasted until the revolution in 1959 [and] it was a bitter, bitter rivalry,” Echevarria said.

Echevarria also spoke on the connection between baseball and Cuban politics.

“The development of baseball was very much tied to a political development in Cuba,” Echevarria said. “Most of those who played baseball were opposed to Spanish control of Cuba [and] these young men saw in baseball something modern, hygienic, opposed to bullfighting [which they saw as] barbaric and retrograde.”

Echevarria touched on the connection between baseball, music, and literature and their collective importance on Cuban culture.

“Music, baseball, and literature in the late 19th century were making up what would become Cuban culture,” Echevarria said. “There was an interest in anything that was foreign and had an air of the modern.”

Echevarria said the historic baseball game between Club Havana and Club Almendares in 1947 was the “most important day in Cuban baseball history.”

“The whole country stopped for this game,” Echevarria said. “”There were people dancing in the streets, there were fist fights, there were shoot-outs.”

Echevarria concluded with a discussion of the political future of Cuba, suggesting the country could shift to a democracy.

“As baseball entered Cuba with modernity and American ways and democracy, I hope it will soon bring democracy to Cuba,” Echevarria said.

Michael Fernandez ’07 said he found enjoyed the connection Echeverria drew between baseball, music, literature and Cuban culture.

“I found it to be very interesting being of Cuban origin to have an overview of the Cuban national sport,” Fernandez said. “I found him to be a very informed, knowledgeable speaker as well.”

Other students said they admired Echevarria’s talent as both a literary scholar and a connoisseur of Cuban history.

“Professor Echevarria is such an institution here,” Lori Flores ’05 said. “To see how he made the transition from being a scholar of literature to [a scholar] of something which really impacts our transnational history between the United States and Cuba … was really cool.”

Jose Ramirez ’07 said he found it interesting that Cuba was “a hub for baseball.”

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