When you think sports in Latin America you think football, right? From Mexico to Argentina the average Brit has romantic images of kids playing keepy-uppy with oranges on street corners and crumbling stadia flooded with rabid fans in a riot of colour all garnished with flares and streamers.
Having travelled to a few of these countries I've seen that many of the stereotypes ring true. However, in Nicaragua football is not el deporte numero uno, it's baseball. Only a 2½hr flight from Miami it's no great surprise that this quintessentially American sport has taken root in Nicargaua.
It was first introduced in the 19th Century by American importer Albert Addlesberg and popularised by US Marines stationed in the country. Despite Nicaragua's turbulent past and impoverished present the country has a 4 team professional baseball league (La Liga Nicaragüense de Beisbol Profesional)that runs from October through February.
It comprises of the Indios del Bóer, the Tigres del Chinandega, the Leones de León, and the Orientales/Tiburones de Granada. Most of the Nicas I spoke weren't really that interested in the national league but were pasionate about "las grandes ligas" i.e. Major League Baseball.
Nicaragua may not have exported the volume of top players to the US as Cuba or the Dominican Republic but they can be proud of the likes of Dennis Martinez who broke numerous pitching records during his 23 year playing career. Currently only Everth Cabrera (San Diego Padres), Wilton López (Colorado Rockies)and Erasmo Martinez (Seattle Mariners) currently play in the MLB.
So, when in Rome or in this case Granada I thought it only right to check out one of the games from myself. After getting confirmation of a 6pm game via their Facebook account (they don't have a website) I jumped in a shared cab (you could walk it but its wise to spend the 15 cordobas) and headed to the
The stadium is Nicaragua in microcosm: rough and ready but with tons of character. Pitching up in the dark and stumbling through the dusty car park I was a little wary of what to expect. How rowdy do baseball fans get after a few beers? A long line of people were queuing at a ticket booth for the main standing area which you could enter for about 30C$ (just over a $1). I thought I'd go for the comfort of a plastic chair and splurged 70C$ for "el palco" or the posh seats behind the batting area. There was no queue for this line. With this you get a program so I caught up on what Los Tiburones had got up to.
Walking up the gangway into the main arena it was obvious that this wasn't a must win game as the stadium was half empty and no touts had come to try and flog me tickets in the car park (I was warned this might happen) so I could sit wherever I wanted.
The teams took to the field without a huge deal of razzmatazz but after about 10 mins play was abandoned as a freak storm deluged the pitch and the fans in the cheap uncovered seats were getting well and truely drenched. Things started to get a bit heated as they were shouting for the gates that separated us to be opened so they get into our enclosure. The stewards and police seem to mull over the implications of this for a while before relenting and letting the soggy mass in. This was great as the atmosphere soon perked up.
First of all lets start with the food. None of your rubbery pies or reconstituted hotdogs here. A constant procession of food & drink vendors shout their wares at you as the cruise up and down the aisles. Quesillos (cheese filled tortillas), Vigoron (pork rinds & cabbage wrapped in banana leaf), Cerviche (raw fish marinated in lime served out of coolers), Asado (roasted meats) sweets, sandwiches, tiny bags of nuts (with a thin moustachioed guy constantly shouting Nipi,Nipi,Nipi,Nipi! on a loop) are just some of the delights you can sample from the comfort of your seat.
Whilst football in the UK has only recently moved from its white working class male roots baseball in Nicaragua is a family affair. Nicaragua in general is a very young country (the median age is 23 compared to 40 in the UK). Maybe its a remnant of Catholicism, maybe there's not much on the TV or maybe they can't afford babysitters but the stadium is full of the little critters running around and causing havoc. It makes for a pleasant atmosphere. Those who run the club even let the street kids come round with sacks to collect the discarded cans and bottles. There is nothing like poverty to encourage you to recycle.
"Jabon Marfil!!!!! Lava, lava y nunca se acaba!"
It's brainwashing taken to Clockwork Orange proportions. I would have bought a box of the stuff just to shut the guy up!
As the innings moves past the half way stage the brass band starts to crank up the volume and we are treated to some booty shaking in the aisle from one die-hard as he is cheered on by the crowd. Then, apropos of nothing, the stadium announcer decides to play The Village People's YMCA during a break in the activity and the crowd all does the synchronised dance moves. This makes me very happy.
Rival fans are not segregated and a tiny group of Tigres fans sat to my left were getting progressively drunker as the game wore on. By the end they were hammered and took to questioning the sexuality of the Tiburones pitcher. At the end of the 9th with the game tied at 3-3 they were loud but they exploded into rapture when deep in the 10th with bases loaded their batter hit one over left field above the despairing gloves of the Tiburones outfielders. Game over.
Overall it’s a great night out and a unique glimpse into an aspect of Nicaraguan culture. It’s an assault on the senses and a must for baseball virgins. In Granada there is no better place to pop your cherry.