Brunswick celebrates Cuban baseball tradition

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BRUNSWICK — It’s hard for an American to appreciate what baseball is like in Cuba, Bowdoin College history professor Allen Wells said.

“It’s got a particular hold on Cuban culture,” Wells said. “Cubans love music, they love cigars, and they love baseball.”

Wells will be speaking about the history of Cuban baseball at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 24, at the Curtis Memorial Library as part of Cuba Week, a celebration of the sister-city relationship between Brunswick and Trinidad, Cuba.

This year, the ninth sponsored by the Brunswick-Trinidad Sister City Association, the theme is Cuba’s love of baseball.

In Cuba, the game of baseball is played by the same rules as in the U.S., but it couldn’t be more different, Wells said.

“In the U.S., baseball has been eclipsed by the NFL,” he said. “I find that in my kid. In Cuba, the only sport that matters, really, is baseball.”

Purist sports fans will be familiar with the major complaint Cubans have about the American version of the game.

“They believe they’re fundamentally more sound,” Wells said. “They think Americans just want to hit home runs.”

In short, Wells said, a Cuban player is more invested in the team concept than individual success, an outlook that reflects the socialist way of life for Cuban citizens. A Cuban player will pay more attention to the smaller details that contribute to team success, even if they don’t allow the individual to rack up big statistics.

The Cuban approach to the game is so different that Cubans have a unique name for it.

“They call it ‘pelota,’ which means ball,” Wells said. “They do that as a distinguishing name between the way they play it and the way we play it here.”

Another major difference is the rate of pay for Cuban baseball stars, which also reflects the country’s socialist political structure.

“Baseball players in Cuba are employees of the state,” Wells said.”They get all the advantages and disadvantages of working for the state. They’re paid a very low wage that they have barely enough to squeak by on.”

While superstars might get a perk, such as a vehicle or access to better housing, they never achieve anything like the financial comfort of their American counterparts.

As the Cuban players age, they are sent to work in other countries, like Japan or China, either as players or as player-coaches. In these positions, they earn more than they got as players in Cuba, but there’s a catch.

“The Cuban government garnishes 90 percent of their wages,” Wells said.

Cuba Week will run from Friday, April 20, to Sunday, April 29, and will include various Cuban baseball-themed events, including showings of a documentary about Cuban exile-turned-baseball-star Luis Tiant.

As in prior years, various area eateries will feature special Cuban menu items.

Donations made during the events will go to the Trinidad Cuba Municipal Library Restoration Project, according to Sue Elsaesser, president of the Brunswick-Trinidad Sister City Association.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

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Cuba Week events in Brunswick

Friday, April 20: Salsa dance with music by Primo Cubano, Cram Alumni House, 83 Federal St., lessons included, 7-8 p.m. ($10/$5 student and seniors).

Monday, April 23: Writers Howard Waxman and Jude Maloney will read from recent works inspired by Cuba. Gulf of Maine Books, 134 Maine St., 4 p.m.

Tuesday, April 24: “Cuba’s Favorite National Pastimes: Baseball and Politics,” a lecture by Allen Wells, American history professor at Bowdoin College, Curtis Memorial Library, 7 p.m.

Wednesday April 25: “Lost Son of Havana,” a film about Major League Baseball pitcher Luis Tiant. The film documents the famed Red Sox player (known as El Tiante in Fenway Park) as he returns to Cuba after 46 years in exile. Showings at Froniter at 3, 5 and 7 p.m.

All week: Cuba photographs by Jude Maloney are on exhibit at Frontier at Fort Andross.

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