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Schedule (Pool C in Puerto Rico)
March 8 vs. Panama, 1 p.m. ET
March 9 vs. Netherlands, 7 p.m. ET
March 10 vs. Puerto Rico, 7:30 p.m. ET
Teams: Havana (Industriales Blue Lions and Metropolitan Warriors); San Jose De Lalas (Havana Province); Pinar del Rio; Matanzas; Villa Clara Orange Growers (Santa Clara); Cienfuegos; Sancti Spiritus; Las Tunas; Ciego de Avila; Granma (Bayamo); Holguin; Santiago de Cuba Wasps; Guantanamo; and the Island of Youth (Nueva Gerona).
Most successful team: Havana's Industriales
Biggest rivalry: Industriales versus Santiago de Cuba, the latter of which was the island's first seat of power. After Havana, Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city and where the revolution began. Santiago is made up of mostly Afro-Cubans with Haitian and musical influences. Havana is where the revolution ended, and is home to mostly white Cubans.
Famous alums: Jose Contreras and Danys Baez (Pinar Del Rio); Orlando Hernandez (Industriales); Livan Hernandez (Villa Clara).
MLB talent-level comparison: Low-MLB (on a good day); Low Triple-A (on a bad day)
Show me (no) money: Players draw their salaries from mandatory day jobs for which they earn $10-15 (U.S.) per month.
Free-agent policy: Defect (and risk your life on a raft) or bust.
Best ballparks: Cuba's ballparks are mostly similar to Japan's, designed in a more oval shape that result in a significant amount of foul territory in the infield and behind home plate and less as you progress toward the outfield foul poles. Typical field dimensions are 325 feet down the lines, 360-380 feet to the gaps and 410 feet to straight away center, with many outfield fences no more than six to seven feet high. Seating capacity varies from 4,000 on the small but scenic Island of Youth to the 55,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, with most averaging 20,000. Guillermon Moncada Stadium in Santiago de Cuba and General Calixto Garcia Stadium Holguin are two of my favorites.
Havana's Estadio Latinoamericano remains the largest ballpark in all of Latin America and hosted the Baltimore Orioles in the 1999 exhibition against the Cuban national team. Most of the National League ballparks are named after revolutionary heroes or victories, such as Estadio Victoria de Giron in Matanzas, which celebrates Cuba's defeat of the U.S. at the Bay of Pigs, which to Cubans is known as Giron Beach. Jose A. Huelga Stadium in Sancti Spiritus recognizes one of Cuba's greatest pitchers of all time. A gigantic monument in Huelga's honors graces the front of the ballpark, with inspiring words to the right-hander on the back of the monument from the comandante himself. Among the more quaint ballparks that don't get the fanfare they deserve are Jose R. Cepero Stadium in Ciego de Avila (Cuba's smallest province) and Julio Antonio Mella Stadium in Las Tunas, which boasts the highest outfield wall in all of Cuba's National League.
Ballpark food and drink: Fans have a variety of eats to chose from, including roasted pig (with porky right there in the aisle ways), ham sandwiches, pizza, popcorn, popsicles and other candy. Some ballparks even allow fans to bring their own food, and they'll be no shortage of smoke wafting through stands, as Cubans love to smoke their famous cigars. You also won't find any ballpark vendors sporting jerseys from "Aramark," nor will you find many advertised prices. But not to worry, ballpark food is dirt cheap, from 1-5 Cuban pesos (mere pennies on the dollar for U.S. visitors); vendors roam the ballpark so you don't have to get up to stand in any lines. Havana Club rum has to be smuggled inside, but police don't usually notice. After the game, grab a beer (Cristal, Bucanero, or in the eastern provinces, a Hatuey) and top it off with a Hemingway favorite, a Mojito (white rum, raw sugar, mint leaves, lime juice, and club soda).
Ballpark atmosphere: Like Dominicans, Cubans like to listen to music at a ridiculously loud volume by North American standards. The play list: salsa and boleros, plus merengue, conga, cha-cha-cha, guaracha, guaguanco, rumba, mambo, suco suco and muerte-en-cuero. You'll hear no commercial announcements, nor witness any advertising for car dealerships along the outfield walls, because, well, there are no corporations in Cuba. The fans have some unmistakable, if not always endearing qualities. They are incredibly animated and they'll often shout, regardless of how far or close you are to them. But what really makes Cuba's historic National League so unique, so different, from all other Cuban institutions is that baseball and its ballparks serve as one of the few outlets where they can truly exercise freedom of expression.
Entertainment: They don't have old-fashioned organ-music, but there is plenty of Cuban music, especially in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. In these music capitals of Cuba, there will often be up to an eight-piece band of "Congregos" playing congo and horns, some while enjoying a Cuban cigar at the same time! One instrument may include banging a piece of metal on the inside of a rusted hubcap. If not in these provinces, Cuban music will blast over the public address system between innings.
Games: Most Monday-Saturday games begin at 8 p.m., with Sunday games usually starting at 2 p.m. The Island of Youth's Cristobal Labra Stadium is Cuba's ultimate throwback, with no ballpark lights and some contests starting at 10 a.m.
Joe Connor is a contributor to ESPN.com. He has a Web site at www.modernerabaseball.com.