Monday, March 02, 2009

Cubans indulge baseball mania at Havana's "Hot Corner"


Cubans argue about the possible roster of Cuba's national baseball team for the upcoming 2009 World Baseball Classic tournament at Havana's Parque Central February 26, 2009. Photo: REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Mon Mar 2, 2009 5:41am IST

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - For all the shouting and nose-to-nose confrontations going on, unsuspecting visitors to Havana's Parque Central might think they had walked into a brawl or a counter-revolution.

The in-your-face, high-decibel shouting match might be about love or politics in another place, but here in the park's famous Esquina Caliente, or Hot Corner, the topic almost always under discussion is baseball, Cuba's national obsession.

Every day, all day, dozens of baseball fans, mostly men, gather in the tree-shaded park in central Havana to talk about their beloved "pelota," as baseball is called here, in animated conversations that usually appear more heated than they are.

The verbal jousting may be about the worth of a particular player or a comparison of the participants' favorite teams, or whether Cuba can win the World Baseball Classic this month.

At any given moment, several debates can be going on, in a free flow of expression not possible everywhere in Cuba.

People come and go, moving from one discussion to another, leaning in to hear above the din that at times sounds like a riot because the ethos here is not conciliation, but disagreement, usually jocular and often delivered with philosophical flair.

One young man postulates that Cuba has enough good pitching to win the world classic, a competition among national teams starting on March 5. But he is quickly rebuffed by an old-timer wearing a Chicago Cubs cap who says baseball officials had tried but failed to select the best candidates for the squad.

NO FIGHTING

An unwritten rule at Esquina Caliente, the name of which comes from baseball slang for third base, is that disputes, no matter how heated, do not turn into a fight.

Debaters may get in each other's face, but they don't come to blows because the point is less about resolution than to simply have one's say, a privilege in a country where free speech has it limits.

"Here you can express yourself. Here, in this place," said Lejuan Mirado, 35, pointing to the ground to emphasize that he meant only in Esquina Caliente.

While baseball talk dominates, participants sometimes veer into more controversial themes.

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