Background

Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students returning from colleges in the United States and American sailors who ported in the country. The sport spread quickly across the island nation after its introduction, with student Nemesio Guilló receiving popular credit date for the game's growth in the mid-19th century. Nemesio attended Spring Hill College, in Mobile, Alabama with his brother Ernesto and returned to Cuba with his brother in 1864. The two formed a baseball team in Cuba in 1868, the Havana Base Ball Club. The club won a major match against the crew of an American schooner anchored at the Matanzas harbor.

Soon after this, the first Cuban War of Independence against its Spanish rulers spurred Spanish authorities in 1869 to ban playing the sport in Cuba. Bullfighting was very famous in the island at that time but this activity began to be replaced by the new sport that required greater power of concentration and that it was not as cruel as the bullfighting. 

In Matanzas as well as in Havana the game started to spread and in October 1st of the year 1868 Francisco de Lersundi, General Captain of the island, passed a law banning the baseball practice throughout the national territory because he considered it "an anti-Spanish game with insurrection tendencies, opposed to the language and favored the lack of affection to Spain...". As such, baseball became symbolic of freedom and egalitarianism to the Cuban people.

The ban also prompted Esteban Bellán to join the semipro Troy Haymakers. He became the first Latin American player to play in the Major Leagues in the United States. Bellán started playing baseball for the Fordham Rose Hill Baseball Club, while attending Fordham University (1863–1868). After that he played for the Unions of Morrisania, a New York City team. Bellán played for the Haymakers until 1862; in 1861 it joined the National Association.

After the execution of the medicine students in 1871, several rich families sent their children to study to schools and universities of United States. Nemesio Guilló (founder of the Cuban baseball) and José Dolores Amieva together with his two brothers were part of this wave that introduced the technique and helped to promote the sport they knew in America.

They created a team in Matanzas and began to play in wastelands. The historic stadium Palmar del Junco in Pueblo Nuevo, Matanzas was built soon and it was considered as the first of its kind in the island where the first Cuban official baseball game took place in 1874. 

The Palmar de Junco Stadium in 1874.

The Palmar del Junco field belonged to the ancestors of doctor Martin del Junco, a famous lawyer, Attorney of the Havana Court and amateur pitcher in his student years. Squares under roof and outdoors were built that later were called stands under the sun. 

The first official match in Cuba took place at the Palmar del Junco. It was the first recorded organized game in the country. The historic game was played Dec. 27, 1874, with Matanzas taking on the Habana Baseball Club. According to a report four days later in the El Artista newspaper published in Havana city, the representative team of Havana won with 51-9 points supported by the pitch of Ricardo Mora and the hit of catcher Esteban Bellán of the Mutual Club in New York in the champion leagues.

The game finished at 5:35 minutes that afternoon, and the dark did not allow continuing the play. Pitcher Ricardo Mora began and ended the play that also scored a home run.

Bellán - who also played - was not only the promoter of all Cuban and Latino-American people to play in the leagues in 1871 but also in December 27, 1874 became the first Cuban and Latin American player to hit three home runs in a game. According to the report signed by a sport editor named Henry. A large audience witnessed the game and the simple uniform of the Habana Club team drew peoples attention.

Three years later, in 1877 the first international game with an American team was held, in Palmar de Junco, this team arrived to Matanzas on board of an American training ship.

In 1878 the passion for baseball emerged among the Cuban people. The Professional League of the Cuban Baseball was created. The stadiums were built everywhere in Havana where dozens of enthusiasts came to see baseball games in places like Canteras de Medina, Melitón, Hacendados, Placer de Peñalver and Quinta de Torrecillas in Puentes Grandes.

The Cuban League consisted of three teams: Almendares, Habana, and Matanzas. Every team played the other two teams four times each. The teams were composed amateurs and were all-white, however professionalism gradually took hold as teams bid on players to pry them from their rivals.

In that same year, the Spanish wanted to impose the football play in Cuba as they considered it the sport of the kings, but it was so late because the Cubans became the kings of baseball.

First Organized Baseball Game Played in Cuba, December 27, 1874

Matanzas BASE BALL CLUB

Habana BASE BALL CLUB

Names

Runs

Names

Runs

Paine

0

Guilló

3

Sánchez

1

Senarens

4

Washington

0

Lancís

7

Domínguez

0

Bellán

7

Delgado

2

Casal

6

Dulzaides

2

Mora

7

Ryland

1

Lawton

4

Armas*

2

Sabourín

8

Frank

1

García

5

Totals

9

 

51

Umpire: Juan Tregent

Scorekeeper: Manuel Pavía