Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students returning from colleges in the United States and American sailors who ported in the country. The sport spread quickly across the island nation after its introduction, with student Nemesio Guilló receiving popular credit date for the game's growth in the mid-19th century. Nemesio attended Spring Hill College, in Mobile, Alabama with his brother Ernesto and returned to Cuba with his brother in 1864. The two formed a baseball team in Cuba in 1868, the Havana Base Ball Club. The club won a major match against the crew of an American schooner anchored at the Matanzas harbor.
Soon after this, the first Cuban War of Independence against its Spanish rulers spurred Spanish authorities in 1869 to ban playing the sport in Cuba. Bullfighting was very famous in the island at that time but this activity began to be replaced by the new sport that required greater power of concentration and that it was not as cruel as the bullfighting.
In Matanzas as well as in Havana the game started to spread and in October 1st of the year 1868 Francisco de Lersundi, General Captain of the island, passed a law banning the baseball practice throughout the national territory because he considered it "an anti-Spanish game with insurrection tendencies, opposed to the language and favored the lack of affection to Spain...". As such, baseball became symbolic of freedom and egalitarianism to the Cuban people.
The ban also prompted Esteban Bellán to join the semipro Troy Haymakers. He became the first Latin American player to play in the Major Leagues in the United States. Bellán started playing baseball for the Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club, while attending Fordham University (1863–1868). After that he played for the Unions of Morrisania, a New York City team. Bellán played for the Haymakers until 1862; in 1861 it joined the National Association.
After the execution of the medicine students in 1871, several rich families sent their children to study to schools and universities of United States. Nemesio Guilló and José Dolores Amieva along with his two brothers were part of this wave that introduced the technique and helped to promote the sport they learned in America.
They created a team in Matanzas and began to play in wastelands. The historic stadium Palmar del Junco in Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas was built soon after and it was considered as the first of its kind in the island. It was there where the first Cuban official baseball game took place in 1874.
The Palmar del Junco field belonged to the ancestors of doctor Martin del Junco, a famous lawyer, attorney of the Havana Court and amateur pitcher in his student years.
The first official game in Cuba took place at the Palmar del Junco. It was the first recorded organized game in the country. The historic game was played on December 27, 1874, with Matanzas taking on the Habana Baseball Club. According to a report four days later in the El Artista newspaper published in Havana, the Habana B.C. won 51-9, behind pitcher Ricardo Mora and catcher Esteban Bellán of the Mutual Club of New York.
The game ended at 5:35 pm that afternoon, and the dark did not allow continuing the play. Pitcher Ricardo Mora began and ended the game and also hit a home run.
Bellán - who also played - was not only the promoter of all Cuban and Latino-American people to play in the leagues in 1871 but also in December 27, 1874 became the first Cuban and Latin American player to hit three home runs in a game. According to the report signed by a sport editor named Henry. A large audience witnessed the game and the simple uniform of the Habana Club team drew peoples attention.
Three years later, in 1877 the first international game with an American team was held, in Palmar del Junco, this team arrived to Matanzas on board of an American training ship.
In 1878 the passion for baseball emerged among the Cuban people. The Professional League of the Cuban Baseball was created. The stadiums were built everywhere in Havana where dozens of enthusiasts came to see baseball games in places like Canteras de Medina, Melitón, Hacendados, Placer de Peñalver and Quinta de Torrecillas in Puentes Grandes.
The Cuban League consisted of three teams: Almendares, Habana, and Matanzas. Every team played the other two teams four times each. The teams were composed amateurs and were all-white, however professionalism gradually took hold as teams bid on players to pry them from their rivals.
In that same year, the Spanish wanted to impose the football play in Cuba as they considered it the sport of the kings, but it was so late because the Cubans became the kings of baseball.
OF CUBAN BASEBALL
Many contributed to the beginning of baseball in Cuba, but there were figures that surpassed barriers to definitely establish it in the island.
From left to right, Nemesio Guilló, who is believed to have brought the first bat and baseball to Cuba in 1864. Emilio Saubourín, patriot, executive, player, referee, and one of the founders of the Cuban League. And Esteban Bellán, recognized by many historians to be the true "father" of Cuban Baseball mainly for his role in organizing the first official baseball game in Matanzas on December 27, 1874.
Bellán is also credited as the first Latin American born individual to play professional baseball in United States, when he played for the Haymakers/Mutuals from 1871-1873. During this period Bellán had a batting average of .251 and was considered a great defensive player.
Palmar del Junco Stadium
PUEBLO NUEVO, MATANZAS, CUBA
The oldest active stadium in the world, the Palmar del Junco Stadium, in Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas, Cuba, is one of the jewels of Cuban baseball.
It was the home of the first official baseball game held in Cuba, on December 27, 1874. The stadium also hosted games during the Cuban Professional League (1878-1961), the Amateur League, and the Cuban National Series (1962-Present).
Palmar del Junco Stadium was declared Local Monument in 1979 and then National Monument in 1991.
Address: Calzada Esteban Street - Cross streets Monserrat & San Ignacio -, Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas, Cuba
Open: Daily 9:00 am-8:30 pm