By Yasel Porto
Some time ago I set myself the task of finding out which baseball stadiums in Cuba paid tribute to people linked to this sport, as many people claim that there are few that meet this criterion. In fact, only the Estadio José Antonio Huelga in Sancti Spíritus is part of the group of those that regularly host the National Series.
The rest of the baseball facilities that play a leading role in Cuba’s main sporting event have an official name that responds to historical events and people linked to politics. I include in this last case something that I consider absurd, such as having used some of these places to recognize foreigners who had little to do with Cuba or baseball, like Nicaraguan Augusto Cesar Sandino (Villa Clara) and Vietnamese Nguyen Van Troi (Guantanamo).
There was even a fact that I consider very noteworthy, and that was what happened in Puerto Padre. The striking stadium was called for a long time Eliodoro “Yoyo” Díaz, a pitcher from that important town of Las Tunas, who triumphed in Cuba and the Negro Leagues. However, shortly after 1959 the name was changed to Hermanos Ameijeiras despite the fact that “Yoyo” still lived there.
It is a reality that although it is not an exclusive issue of the Island, as it also happens in Major Leagues and leagues of enormous equally as the KBO, Japan or Taiwan, just to name a few, the tradition in most Latino countries has been different. In these cases we can find very good examples such as the Dennis Martinez National Stadium (Nicaragua), the Hiram Bithorn Stadium (Puerto Rico), the Roberto Clemente Stadium (Puerto Rico), the Rod Carew Stadium (Panama) or the Rico Cedeño Stadium (Panama), top quality facilities that have hosted important international tournaments such as the World Baseball World Classics, World Cup Qualifiers or the last World Cup of the now defunct IBAF.
In any case, beyond what happens outside, in surveys and debates among Cubans, more people have preferred names such as Alejandro Oms, Adolfo Luque, or even Martin Dihigo (for a head stadium) than those that today identify certain ballparks.
But although it seemed necessary to reflect this reality, where I include my own opinion of having named more major stadiums after baseball figures linked to those cities or provinces, the essential theme of this article was expressed in its opening paragraph.
The key to this research was the collaboration of many fans and colleagues from a publication in my personal page asking for information on the subject, from the primary list of which I was aware.
The results exceeded my expectations, even though in many cases they are facilities of little use or importance outside their local environment. Others belong only to the minor categories and there are even those that are practically in disuse.
Here is a list of stadiums that pay eternal homage to ballplayers, coaches and even activists who have made a great contribution to baseball. I warn that this group is not totally closed, because I do not doubt that someone who reads this writing will notice some other site less known even to most people. Thanks in advance.
National Series Stadium (provincial capitals):
1-José Antonio Huelga, Sancti Spíritus.
National Series Stadiums (non-head municipalities):
1-Martín Dihigo (Triunvirato, Limonar, Matanzas).
2-Martín Dihigo (Cruces, Cienfuegos)
3-Pedro “Natilla” Jiménez (Jaruco, Mayabeque)
4-Santiago “Changa” Mederos (Ciudad Deportiva, Cerro, Havana)
5-Tomás del Calvo (Quivicán, Mayabeque)
6-Genardo Melero (Jatibonico, Sancti Spíritus)
7-Severino Méndez (Bauta, Artemisa)
8-Fidel Rangel (Venezuela, Ciego de Avila)
9-Francisco Salcedo (Media Luna, Granma)
10-Arnaldo Cervantes, coach (Majagua, Ciego de Avila)
11-Mario Pedroso, coach (Bejucal, Mayabeque)
12-Luis Campos (Alquízar, Artemisa)
13-Tirso Hidalgo, trainer (Niquero, Granma)
14-Mario Pérez Cuesta (Vertientes, Camagüey)
15-Gilberto Ferrales (Amancio Rodríguez, Las Tunas)
16-Melchor Anido, activist and equipment delegate (Báguanos, Holguín)
17-Emiliano Ayllón, trainer (Limonar, Matanzas)
18-Ambrosio Marrero, coach (Nuevitas, Camagüey)
(*): Dihigo is the only human being that appears in two stadiums of major categories in different places. Near where he was born and in the town where he died.
(*): The “Changa” played an important role between 2002 and 2012 at the national level by being a regular venue for Metropolitanos, and even hosting international games in the 2003 World Cup and the 2006 University Games. In the provincial environment it has been for decades the main home of the Havana Provincial Series.
(*): For a while the Jatibonico stadium was the only one named after a living person, until the death in 2003 at the age of 102 of the former pitcher of sugar tournaments Genaro Melero.
(*): The Severino Méndez, former CVD Bauta, was a regular venue in National Series of Pinar del Río teams in the sixties and a few years ago of the Artemisa team when the 26 de Julio stadium was being remodeled.
Other municipality or locality stadiums (not National Series):
1-Fidel Linares (Boca de Galafre, San Juan y Martínez, Pinar del Río).
2-Regino O’Farrill, trainer of Germán Mesa and others (Cuatro Caminos, Cotorro, La Habana)
3-Miguel Caldés (Los Coquitos, Camagüey)
4-Rolando Cubilé Almanza (Preuniversitario de Morón, Ciego de Ávila)
5-Urbano González (Catalina de Güines, Mayabeque)
6-José “Pepín” Carrillo, coach (District José Martí, Santiago de Cuba)
7-Rolando Hernández, coach (EIDE of Camagüey)
8-Ángel López (Las Tunas)
9-Ramiro Tamayo (Bayamo, Granma)
10-Oliverio Ortiz (Antiguo Central Senado, Camagüey)
11-Arturo Valdés (Punta Brava, La Lisa, Havana)
12-Tomás Soto (Las Guásimas, Cárdenas, Matanzas)
13-Juan Antonio “Bobby” Salamanca (San Miguel del Padrón, Havana)
14-“El Héroe de Parma” (Meneses, Yaguajay, Sancti Spíritus)
(*): The Fidel Linares (father of Omar and Juan Carlos Linares, and the first outstanding figure of Pinar del Río in National Series) I was told by two people living near the place that it is in very bad conditions and the baseball activity there is almost null.
(*): In the Arturo Valdés (member of the Hall of Fame for his results in the 19th century), soccer has been played there for years. It hosted only one National Series game in 1998, between Industriales and Metropolitanos.
(*): Salamanca was a sports journalist and in 1995 the stadium of “La Curva” was baptized with his name. That year the only National Series game was played in that stadium. Today it is part of the minor categories and the provincial senior categories.
(*): The Meneses stadium does not bear the direct name of a baseball player, but it refers to the name with which Lourdes Gurriel was known since its refoundation in 1991 with a National Series game. It was given because of the general reluctance to use names of living people for sports facilities or clubs in Cuba.
Little League stadiums:
1-Pedro “Natilla” Jimenez (Santa Clara, Villa Clara).
2-Manuel Alarcón (Bayamo, Granma)
3-Yoanys Delgado (Yaguajay, Sancti Spíritus)
4-Juan Ealo (Ciudad Deportiva, Cerro, Havana)
5-Antonio Muñoz (Cienfuegos)
6-Pedro Chávez (Santiago de las Vegas, Havana)
7-Ricardo Bent Williams (Báguanos, Holguín)
8-Fermín Laffita (Holguín)
(*): With “Natilla” Jiménez (stellar former pitcher of the 30’s and 40’s, and later recognized trainer), something similar to Dihigo happens, but with the difference that one stadium is for adults and the other only up to the little league category.
(*): Everyone calls Antonio Muñoz and Pedro Chávez to the field where these Cuban baseball legends give or gave classes to children on a daily basis. In the case of Muñoz, the latter expressed his will for the stadium to be renamed after Cooperstown Hall of Fame member Cristobal Torriente, but the intentions and efforts of the Escambray Giant have not yet found administrative or institutional support.
(*): The Fermin Laffita was in terrible conditions, although at the time it did host the National Press Softball Tournament and the Holguin University Sports Games.
There is a detail, and that is that four of these places are named after baseball figures still alive (Chavez, Muñoz, Soto and Gurriel), and that in the case of the Yaguajay Little League and the Camagüey EIDE were the last to be renamed, shortly after the death of Delgado and Rolando Hernandez