Despite being two very different countries in many ways, the United States and Cuba share one fundamental trait: a fanatical love for baseball. Many people believe that soccer is the most popular sport in Cuba, yet baseball, as in the United States, is the most popular sport in Cuba. There are several reasons why baseball is so popular in Cuba. One is the cost of watching games on television; the other is the country's reputation for producing great players.
Baseball was first introduced to Cuba by American slaves who played with indigenous sticks and rocks. The game eventually spread across the island after some major league teams established franchises. Today, there are more than 600 professional baseball players worldwide who were once members of the industry-famous "Little Havana" club in Miami, Florida. The biggest names include Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Orlando Cepeda and former MVP Jose Lima.
In addition to having famous players, Cuba also has had its share of all-time great pitchers such as Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera. Outfielders Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez have been called "The Cuban Babe Ruth" and "El Duque", respectively. In fact, before Jose Reyes was traded to the New York Mets this past July 2, he was considered by many to be the best defensive shortstop in baseball history. The list goes on and on.
After baseball, football is the second most popular sport in Cuba. It is particularly popular among Cuba's young people and new generations. In La Liga, the majority of Cubans support either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Around 300,000 people play soccer regularly, and it is estimated that another 1 million watch games occasionally.
Women's soccer is widely accepted in Cuba as an important sport, but the country does not have a national team. Men's soccer is more popular and has more opportunities to succeed. There are several professional clubs in the Cuban National League (CNL), but they all come from major cities such as Havana, Santa Clara, Camagüey, and Baracoa.
The national team did qualify for a World Cup group stage for the first time in 2018, but they were disqualified after several of their players were banned from competing due to government sanctions against political dissidents.
Cuba's top league is called "La Habana" and has 12 teams. The season starts in January and ends in November. Games are on Sundays at 14:00 local time.
The most famous player from Cuba is Eusebio, who played for Barcelona and Portugal before moving to Mexico where he managed Santos Laguna for ten years. He is considered the best striker in the history of soccer.
In Cuba since 1961, only amateur baseball has been played. Baseball has become more than just a national sport in Cuba; it has become an integral element of the country's identity. Cuban fans are well-versed in baseball and like lengthy home runs as well as pitching duels. In addition, they enjoy fast games and close finishes.
The Cubans have won two World Series titles - in '66 and '05. They've also finished as runners-up on three other occasions ('62, '93, and '00).
Despite this success, many critics say that baseball is far behind soccer in terms of popularity in Cuba. The government-run media often ignores sports other than tennis, boxing, and golf. Sports events tend to be poorly attended because there are no financial rewards for winning and only prestige associated with doing well.
It's believed that since 2007, baseball has been banned by the government due to its ties with United States culture. However, despite this ban, some small leagues continue to operate under the radar.
An exception was made in February 2018 when USA baseball players were allowed to travel to Havana to play against Cuban teams during a series called "A Night at the Movies". The game was broadcast live on television with a large audience watching.