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July 29, 2013

Fidel Castro Playing Baseball, 1959

Five days after Castro had seized power in Cuba, members of Castro’s guerilla army - known as the 26th of July Movement - were invited to attend a Havana Cuba Sugar Kings game for free. These guerillas were known as “Barbudos” – the bearded ones – and beard length was a point of pride as it was used to determine length of time served in the movement. The crowd stood to sing the July 26 movement’s anthem and gave a long standing ovation to the guerrillas. Soldiers and players mingled. When Carlos Paula hit a home run, one of the Barbudos jumped onto the field and embraced him. It was a time of celebration at Gran Stadium (now Estadio Latinoamericano). Baseball was again at the heart of Cuba’s nationalism, even though Fidel had yet to reach Havana.

Fidel was a long-time baseball fan and often attended Sugar Kings games at Gran Stadium. In fact, Castro had been a pitcher during his days at the University of Havana. On July 24th, 1959, Castro staged an exhibition game between Los Barbudos and the Cuban National Police prior to a game between the Sugar Kings and the Rochester Red Wings.

The organizers of the event decided that Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos (Fidel’s right hand man, next to Ché of course) could represent the Police as a pitcher. The “Hero of Yaguajay” (as Cienfuegos was known) refused, stating “I won’t be against Fidel, in life or in baseball.” Barbudos used Cienfuegos as their catcher and he ended up being Fidel’s battery mate, taking over from Guerra Matos (who was the country’s Sports Director).

The team was managed by Eduardo Castellano and included such players as Raul Catala, Laudelio Reyes, Alfredo Carvajal, Ilcibiades Santos, Ruben Tamayo, Ronaldo Sanchez, Amador Torres, Ramiro Rodriguez, Sergio Garcia and Bernardo Hechavarria, who later went on to play professional ball.

Below are some photographs from the game:

Rebel Camilo Cienfuegos (L) during baseball game.

Rebels Fidel Castro (C) and Camilo Cienfuegos (L) during baseball game.

Fidel Castro (C) and Osvaldo Dorticos Torrado (L).

Camilo Cienfuegos & Fidel Castro

Fidel gets a generous call to strike out the hitter.

Fidel signs autographs for the umpires pre-game.

Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro & Fidel Castro

Camilo Cienfuegos (aka the Hero of Yaguajay) signs autographs.

The Hero of Yaguajay suffers an equipment malfunction.

A meeting of the minds.

Fidel Castro, #19

Fidel Castro and the team captain of the Cuban National Police.

Fidel warms up.

Raul Castro & Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro rockin' the coke bottle glasses.

Fidel slams a "refresco"

Barbudos players mingle with the Sugar Kings.

(LIFE © Time Inc., via MopUpDuty)


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