Sunday, May 31, 2009
Let’s play ball.
Leon was surrounded by volcanos and one of the popular things to do was sand boarding down the volcanic sand on one of those peaks. Big Foot was the place to book those tours but we weren’t in the mood to go hiking up a volcano nor sliding down it, particularly when we saw who was going on the tour that day. A group of young loud girls carrying matching Coach purses arrived at the hostel as we were eating breakfast. “So, like, do you speak English ” to co-owner Gemma (from Birmigham, England). They were too loud in that teenager sort of way – hoping people were listening to them, but having nothing interesting to say – as they waited for the tour van to arrive. They poked around the hostel gingerly, looking down their nose and saying “oh this is those places were those people who travel a long time stay.” And taking out a camera to document their experience. They touched things gingerly and stared at all the guests as if we were animals in the zoo. What these girls were doing in Nicaragua was a mystery.
We asked Gemma what else there was to do in the town. She understood our reluctance to go on the volcano tour with the designer princesses and suggested a baseball game instead.
“They’re crazy about baseball here,” Gemma continued, “it’s really fun.”
I was skeptical. Baseball is internationally ridiculed as one of the most boring sports. But for a Brit to suggest it would be fun day swayed me. When in Leon…
Out on the street I flagged down a cab. There was already a woman in it but it was normal for people to share cabs and it meant that the ride was only 15C each for us, or less than a dollar. When the driver found out we were going to the baseball game, he became very excited. He sang the praises of the Leon Leones team (that’s the Lion Lions, in English). And predicted that Leon was going to thrash the other team Norte Atlantica. His reasoning? Pacific teams were infinitely better than Caribbean ones. This rivalrly goes back hundreds of years when the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was separate from the rest of the country. It was under British rule while the Pacific side was Spanish. Our cab driver was Spanish and apparently had not heard that Nicaragua had been a united country for a long time.
I guess rivalries die hard. Especially when they concern the country’s favourite sport. Our driver told us that Leon were the national champions and the best team in Central America. When he found out we were Canadian, he began going on about the Montreal Expos (I’m not sure he knew that they were RIP) and a local hero who played with them. He also began naming other Nicaraguan players that played in Big Leagues. Being a non-baseball fan I recognized none of them but didn’t have the heart to admit it. He let us off at the stadium and regretted he wasn’t able to join us, giving Adrian a thumbs up (how did he know about his signature pose) as he drove away. Nicaraguan taxi drivers sure are different from Honduran ones.
We bought our general admission somber (shade) tickets (20C each = just over $1) and found seats behind first base. The fame had already started but the stands were still filling up. Although it was just after 10 there was plenty of beer for sale and many people were partaking. Many also had large bottles of rum that they were pouring into cups of ice. At first it was like any other baseball game, that is kind of boring. But as the stands filled up and more was drunk, it became a lot of fun.
The crowds were as enthusiastic as the cab driver. And we could see the rowdiest part behind the third base just beside the gated off visitors section. The two sections were trash talking each other but it all appeared good natured. The old English-Spanish division was apparent from the names on the back of the jersey’s (Delgado, Salgado, Muñoz vs. Fox, Campbell and Patterson) but didn’t factor into any of the insults thrown back and forth to each other. Instead, there were a lot of comments about people’s mothers and sexual orientation chanted with the help of a brass section and bass drum sitting in the stands.
After 7 innings, both teams left the field. The score was 3-1 for Leon. We assumed this was some sort of 7th inning stretch minus the cheesy half-time show. But when the players came out again wearing different uniforms and the scoreboard was cleared we realized that it was a doubleheader of two shortened games.
I developed a favourite Leon player, a scrawny guy that appeared to be 12 and just a titch over 5 feet. At first, pitches often went over his head and he was often walked. Adrian and I decided that he was the underdog to root for and imagined him frustrated by the pitches and just waiting to get a pitch he could swing at. Indeed when the pitcher finally threw something at his level, he almost hit a home run – the closest anyone got during the two games.
As the game went on, even the shade was 36 degrees. But the two incredibly drunk guys in front of us kept us super entertained. They alternated between play fighting and demanding sloppy kisses from each other.
When we started to get hungry, we eyed all the vendors trying to decide what to eat. Plantains with cole slaw? Tortillas filled with new cheese, sour cream and onions? Or long skinny deep fried bread? In the end Adrian came back with hot dogs. They were Nicaraguan favourites and went perfectly with the setting.
After 13 innings of baseball my interest began to wane, until a catcher caught a ball in the balls. C'mon that's always entertaining or else why would America's Funniest Home Videos still be on air. It also seemed to reinvigorate the crowd as they hoped one of the teams would score as they went into extra innings. At the top of the 9th, Leon scored for their second win of the morning and the crowd went wild.
We caught a taxi back into town. In the taxi’s rearview mirror I could see that Adrian and I were both burnt despite sitting in the shade. Stupid sun bouncing off the concrete. So we spent the rest of the day at the hostel trying to cool off under the fans with mojitos and giant beers. Luckily the annoying girls from this morning were long gone.