So despite Latin America's well-deserved reputation as a land of soccer fanatics, Nicaragua is a whole other ball of wax. Here, while soccer is understandably popular, the King of Sports is none other than good old-fashioned American Baseball, thanks to an early-20th century invasion by the U.S. Marines. While Nicaraguans aggressively opposed the American occupation of their nation, they fell in love with baseball and never stopped loving it. Yesterday was a lazy Sunday, and for once, I didn't have a whole lot going on. I suppose I could have sequestered myself in my room and spent many painstaking hours transcribing interviews, but frankly, I'm sick of it, and I needed a break. So I walked out on the street and asked around. Anything cool going on today in town? Why, yes, exclaimed a chatty vegetable salesman. Over at the stadium they're having the Departmental playoffs for the Liga Campesina ("Peasant League") and today Matagalpa is playing San Ramon. Lovely! I thought. I always enjoy a good baseball game, so I trotted over to the stadium, bought my ticket, and plopped myself down on the worn wooden bleachers.
Oh, my goodness. I love Nicaraguan baseball. First of all, let's get the idea of a Peasant League straight. These guys might live in poor little houses, have only basic levels of education, but holy shit do they take their baseball seriously. Their uniforms are spiffy and gleaming and ironed fresh, and out on the field they play with all the intensity of major leaguers. Nothing breaks their focus, and that in and of itself is astonishing, considering the absolute anarchy that rules outside the baselines. I've seen some crazy crowds in my life, and that baseball stadium outstripped them all. First of all, I was the only, I repeat THE ONLY woman in the whole place, though I doubt that was normal, really. And second of all, those guys were crazy. The announcer was seriously annoying, so a bunch of guys started shouting him down with wisecracks and insults, which he naturally had to respond to, and it all degenerated into a commentary that went kind of like this:
Announcer: "Cabrera, the left-handed pitcher, just swung and missed. Now he'll try again."
Wiseguys: "No, shit, you idiot, we have eyes too. Why don't you put your mother on the microphone!"
Announcer: "Special alert for the assholes along the third-base line, Cabrera swings again, and another strike, your mothers told my mother that you have small penises."
Wiseguys: "That's not what your wife said last night!"
Announcer: "My wife, a hit! Cabrera got a hit, it's a single, he'll stay at first, my wife, you little pubic hairs, knows better than to trade a stud like me for a little pubic hair like yourself."
You'd think that the announcers and the crowd might get tired of all this, but no. It went on for innings, getting progressively more ridiculous, the whole stadium laughing along. To add to the mayhem, a bunch of small boys loitering outside the stadium had rigged a rudimentary catapult out in the streets, and every time a foul ball landed outside the stadium (quite frequently) just a few minutes later it'd come hurtling back onto the field with frightening force, once nearly clocking the pitcher upside the head.
The game, which had been stalled for a while at 6-2 got more exciting when San Ramon scored 4 runs in the sixth inning, tying it up at 6, and then the whole place was on its feet. All the energy the crowd had previously devoted to cheerful insults was now focused so hard on the field their eyes bugged out of their heads. "No, not the lefty, you idiot coach! Run, run, run! Stop, stop, stop! Replace the umpire, he's a drooling moron!" They were on their feet, veins bulging in their foreheads, standing at the fence and gripping the chicken-wire for all they were worth. Matagalpa finally pulled it out in the 9th inning and took it away from San Ramon 7-6. All was well with the world, and men who only moments before had looked dangerously close to apoplexy clapped each other on the shoulders and moseyed their way on home.
It was, for me, a wonderful day. A baseball game, a melty ice cream cone, a bright sun, a cool breeze, and a scene like the one in that stadium. It just doesn't get much better than that.