I’ve heard of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. I casually use expressions like “getting off first base” or scoring “a home run”. But (even though I’ve seen more Kevin Costner movies than is sensible) I know nothing about baseball. Naturally, then, when the opportunity arose to attend a baseball game (yes, I know, it’s not a “match”) in Granada, I said yes immediately.
Nicaragua might have had its ups and down with their Yankee neighbours but they have no difficulty with their sports. Other Central American countries are into soccer – two even fought a war over the beautiful game – but here in Nica it’s baseball all the way in the sports pages of the national dailies.
The baseball stadium is a floodlit wonder just outside town. A friendly tout sells us tickets at 70 cordobas apiece (just over €2), not the cheapest seats but not the poshest either. The game – Granada versus Managua – is already on a while and the real fans are in place. So are the inhouse musicians, a ragtag bunch of percussionists and trumpet players. They make quite a racket and they’re sitting right behind us. There’s the theme from the Pink Panther and while I’m not familiar with the rest of their repertoire, it sure adds to the atmosphere.
They’re selling beers and other cold drinks and hawkers pass by regularly offering nuts, ice creams, fruit shakes and the like. Most of the women carry their loads on their heads. Up the back, other women are cooking up some typical Nicaraguan street food – plantain crisps, gallo pinto (rice and beans), salads and blackened chicken, all served in picturesque fashion on a banana leaf, and unambiguously delicious when washed down with a can of local Tona beer for just $1.
There’s the game too. A Bostonian couple, big fans of the Red Sox, have tagged along for the game and they fill us in on the intricacies of baseball. For every rule, it seems, there’s an exception, and tactics play a large part. Indeed, apart from the batsman, pitcher and catcher, it doesn’t seem that the teams are over-exercised. Granada somehow run up three scores to none for the visitors when it starts raining. The cheap seats flee from the downpour and overcome the stewards’ initial resistance to letting them in under our covered area of the stands. Now it’s even louder and more boisterous but I don’t get the impression that the crowd are 100 per cent focused on the game – there’s the food, the banter, the music and the general craic. The rain ends and the seats dry in minutes in the evening heat. Managua come back into it but just as it seems they might snatch a draw the game ends, by rules I’m still struggling to understand. Thus ends my first – and possibly last – baseball match. I mean, game.