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The Latino, an Extreme Experience
Latin American Stadium Photo: Courtesy of Play Off Magazine.
Latin American Stadium Photo: Courtesy of Play Off Magazine.

Alexander Abreu is an excellent Cuban musician, trumpet player and director of the popular Havana D’Primera music group. Alexander was born in Cienfuegos, a province in the island’s center-south, but so much time and so many things definitively join him to Havana. He got to this city in 1994 to study music in the National Art School (ENA). These have been 24 years that make him, as he says, a fan of the Industriales baseball team beyond his control.

Industrials is the capital’s team, the “Latino” is the team’s home. Actually, the name is Latin American Stadium, the former Grand Stadium which in turn was the former Tropical Beer Stadium in the 1930s. But with that custom of speaking using short words, directly and in a rush, Cubans simply call it the Latino. When I asked Alexander Abreu if the Latin American Stadium would be a place he would recommend to those visiting Havana he hesitates. Alexander says that this place, so crowded by Cuban baseball fanatics (with all the passion Cuban fanatics can have) is just for those seeking extreme experiences.

“Let’s just imagine that the Latino can sit 55,000 persons who play music with whatever they have at hand, be it a rumba or a conga. It doesn’t matter, what’s important is that these fanatics sound. And, in addition, that it has to be very loud.”

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In 1961 the stadium was rebaptized with its current name, during the closing of the 7th Latin American Congress of Students. Until then it had been the venue of the Cuban Professional Baseball League made up by four teams: Almendares, Habana, Marianao and Cienfuegos, the most important outside the capital.

The publicity billboards of the Hatuey beer, a beverage that is no longer produced or marketed on the island, of Bacardí rum, as well as that of other small Cuban and U.S. enterprises and businesses were still up until that year.

But in 1962 the publicity billboards were forbidden and the INDER (National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation) disprofessionalized baseball. The sport then acquired an amateur character.

The Industriales team was formed that same year, and they inherited from the old teams of the province (Habana and Almendares) their two identifying symbols. The lion mascot and the color blue. It is such an intense and peculiar blue that among us Havanans we refer to it as “industrial blue.” They made the Latino their home and their team the maximum winner in the National Baseball Series, with 12 titles to date.

The lion, which belonged to the Habana team, did not appear again until the 1990s, since all the mascot paraphernalia, pseudonyms and slogans were considered typical of professional baseball and not of “revolutionary baseball.”

The blue, which belonged to the Almendares, is also the city’s representative color thanks to Our Lady of Regla (Yemayá in the Yoruba religion), the patron saint of the Bay of Havana’s port and goddess of the sea.

Latin American Stadium Photo: PlayOff Magazine.
Latin American Stadium Photo: Play Off Magazine.

Yemayá, which according to the Letter of the Year (predictions made by the Babalawos) will reign in 2018, is precisely one of the protagonists of the “Lamento Yoruba,” a work in which Alexander makes a trip from the start of the religion in Cuba and which is included in his next CD: El cantor del pueblo (The Singer of the People).

Of the people because Alexander, who affirms this, has been able to make an adaptation of the nature of what we Cubans are.

When he finishes on time one of the recording sessions for the CD (which is expected to come out in March) and the Industriales are playing, Alexander goes to the Latino, the place that concentrates part of what this people is. He enjoys meeting with the public, taking pictures, hugging someone…. The Latino is so much Cuba that it has the same environment, the same smells and the same frenzy.

It is normal to be squeezed together at the entrance and the exit, that the vendors lose their voice crying out any typical snack (popcorn, toasted peanuts), that craving and gluttony are more than a full stomach and one ends up not just eating one, but rather several pork sandwiches – the classical Cuban sandwich – for just five pesos (0.25 CUC centavos).

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Forty years had to go by since its name changed to Latin American Stadium for a U.S. Major League team to play on its field. In March 1999 Cuba and the Baltimore Orioles played a historic game. The Orioles won, three to two.

Also in March, but of 2016, during the visit to the island by then President Barack Obama, the Tampa Bay Rays played against the Cuba team. For the second time the locals lost one to the Rays’ four.

The stadium was remodeled for both occasions. Even so, it is still the place that is: folkloric, frenzied and even a bit decadent.

Alexander Abreu en un juego en el Latino. Foto: Ricardo López Hevia.
Alexander Abreu in a game in the Latino. Photo: Ricardo López Hevia.

“Then, would you or wouldn’t you recommend the Latino?” I insist in asking Alexander.

“If you want to have some adrenaline run high, go to the Latino. If you want to laugh, go to the Latino. If you want to see an interesting baseball game, go to the Latino. That’s the only way I recommend that you go.”

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