Is this Yankee Stadium?
Nope! Are those the Los Angeles Dodgers taking on the Texas Rangers?
Nope! This is Granada’s Estadio Flor de Caña, and Granada’s home team, Los Orientales, are facing their classic rivals, Managua’s Boer. The stands are packed with cheering fans, and the crowd is going wild! Nicaraguans, young and old, passionately love baseball.
By Katharine Stevens
The United States Marines stationed here in the early 1900's are credited with bringing baseball to Nicaragua, almost 100 years ago. As one Nicaraguan explained: “Well, when the Americans first came here, they used to play baseball and sometimes they didn’t have enough players. So they showed the Nicaraguans how to play the game, and then we started playing against them!” The game captivated the population and baseball soared in popularity. It is now Nicaragua’s national sport.
Nicaragua has both a professional league and an amateur league. The professional Liga Nicaragüense de Béisbol has a 48-game season, running from October to January, and four teams: Granada, Chinandega, Leon and Managua. Each team has 20 members, and can recruit a maximum of six foreign players. Nicaragua’s professional league currently includes a total of 59 Nicaraguans and 21 foreign recruits: 10 from the Dominican Republic, 3 from Venezuela, 2 from the Netherlands, 2 from the U.S., 2 from Cuba, 1 from Puerto Rico, and 1 from Curacao. Players in the amateur league, the Liga Germán Pomares, are all Nicaraguan. The amateur league plays from February to September and is made up of 16 teams representing Nicaragua’s largest cities, including Granada’s Los Tiburones or “Sharks.” Nicaragua also has a national baseball team made up of players selected from the professional league. The Nicaragua team has played in the Baseball World Cup since 1939, and hosted five World Cup tournaments.
Since 1976, eleven Nicaraguans have played in U.S. Major League Baseball including Dennis Martínez, the world-famous Granada-born Big Leaguer, who pitched the thirteenth “perfect game” in baseball history for the Montreal Expos against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1991. Martinez was elected to the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame as part of its 2011 class, and is the only Latin American-born pitcher to pitch a perfect game in the U.S. Major Leagues.
Well, when the Americans first came here, they used to play baseball and sometimes they didn’t have enough players. So they showed the Nicaraguans how to play the game, and then we started playing against them!
And some think Nicaragua could send many more players to the Major Leagues, with improved access to training and support. While Nicaragua is a baseball-loving country, young people here have long lacked the training opportunities available to their peers in other Latin American countries. But a group of U.S. businessmen, including former Major Leaguers Dave Stewart and Reggie Smith, have recently formed the International Baseball Association to change that. The group has donated baseball equipment to amateur teams across the country, sponsored trips of 13- 15-year-old U.S. players to play in Nicaragua, and now plans to build a state-of-the-art academy here, patterned after the successful baseball academies in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The new academy, the International Baseball Academy of Central America (IBACA), will develop Nicaragua’s wellspring of baseball talent, providing expert baseball instruction as well as education and vocational training to young players. "We understand that the primary mission of many Latin American baseball academies is to find kids to play ball," said Bob Oettinger, one of the founding principals of IBACA. "We want to provide Nicaraguan kids that opportunity, but we also want to provide the social and educational services to facilitate participants’ growth into responsible community role models. Kids will be getting the best instruction on the field, but also in the classroom. We want them to leave the academy with better skills and confidence - not just for baseball, but for life."