As it does every year, the Baseball National Series attracts the attention of millions of Cubans. “The ball,” as we call it, has been the national sport for many years, and not surprisingly generates heated discussions in the central parks of every town on the island. For those of us with the illusion that people are preoccupied by the most burning issues of the day, it’s always a little frustrating to come across a group of men shouting and gesticulating passionately, not about how to end the country’s dual monetary system, nor how to reclaim some right they’ve been cheated out of, but only about whether some play was the right thing to do, or who, among the all the players, is the best batter.
But the primary sporting passion of Cubans is not exempt from politics, especially when some baseball superstar decides not to return home after a trip abroad, or if a player is not chosen to play at an international event because he is feared to be unreliable and at risk of “deserting.” At a recent match-up between two teams of ardent rivals, one player was offended because he thought that the ball had been thrown with the intention of hitting him, and to the surprise of the spectators, he ran after the pitcher swinging his bat. The players emptied the bench, some fans dived into the fray, and the police made generous use of their pepper spray and batons, with a few kicks thrown in for good measure. The official cameras broadcasting the game were turned away from the melee, and not a single TV viewer knew what had happened… at that time.
But the new technologies foiled the prudish censor, as dozens of digital cameras and cell phones filmed every detail. That version of events was distributed to thousands of people on CDs and flash memories. And what great discussions we had in the parks, then!