Diamonds and Dominos: Cuba’s Love of Sports

Diamonds and Dominos: Cuba’s Love of Sports

DREW VO: I’m Drew Scanlon. I’m exploring the world through the lens
of games, and doing it with the support of people like you on Patreon. Help us out at To my American mind, Cuba is practically synonymous
with baseball. This small country of 11 million people has
produced numerous professional players who have become household names across the embargo
lines in America. Cuba and baseball are so closely linked, the
mere sight of soccer fields in surveillance photos was enough to point to foreign involvement
during the Cuban missile crisis. In the words of Henry Kissinger, “Cubans
play baseball, Russians play soccer.” What makes Cuba’s baseball heart tick? And is sport truly separable from politics? To find out, we spoke with Roberto, a former
principal of a sports training school. We met at Sports City in Havana, a popular–
and massive–sporting facility that’s open to the public. ROBERTO: Here in Cuba, everybody likes sports. It is difficult to know a person that doesn’t
like sport. The practice of sport is good for health. But it’s good to enjoy yourself, to get
together, to have a time together, to put down the… Most of the time, it’s to do what you want
to do. We have baseball as national sport. Since we are a child, we watch on the television,
we watch baseball. DREW: As a child, where would you play? ROBERTO: Here, sometimes, and there, and there. Anyplace. Including on the street too. DREW: Do children play baseball in school? ROBERTO: No, not baseball. Baseball needs more time, more resources,
more space, and our schools… not every school has space for that. In every province, we have an academy,
baseball academy. These teams have games to determine who is
going to be in the national team and represent Cuba out of here. Olympic Games, Central American Games, Pan
American Games, the world championship… And everybody is waiting, “who is going
to be the first base?” “Who is going to be the shortstop?” Everybody is talking that. DREW: In America we have players from Cuba. How
do they go from Cuba to America? ROBERTO: Oh, that’s very, very, very interesting. It is not easy because they have to put away
the Cuban nationality in order to play there. If you continue being a Cuban man, you can not
play in major leagues. Some of them do it, because they need to prove
themselves. When you are in other leagues, like Panama,
Japan, Korea, Italy… they are not strong leagues. You learn nothing. You go to teach, not to learn. But when you go there, you’re going to learn. And you are going to show that you are good,
that you can be the best too. DREW: And they can’t come back. ROBERT: No, they can’t come back because if
they return back, they cannot continue playing there. Some people there are making great efforts
to eliminate that problem. They were here, where you are standing, they
were here. It’s politics. Sports is not a thing to blend with politics. Baseball is sport. Nobody’s thinking politics, nothing. Only baseball. Everybody relax on Sunday, participate with
friends and family, in sports, in games… social games included. Some like to play baseball, some people like
to play domino. That’s Cuban life. We can be playing domino all the night and
then in the morning go to work. We can do it. Not with him, because he need to drink to
play domino. ALFREDO: No, it’s not true. Ron o agua? Rum or water? JESUS: Water! I’d like a water! ROBERTO: Hey, hey, wait. First of all, how much? DREW: How much? ROBERTO: Yeah. CAROLINA: He wants to bet. DREW: Of course he wants to bet with me! DREW VO: Dominos. A Cuban staple. And, as I would soon learn, a seemingly
simple game that is deep with strategy. CAROLINA: You have to lose as much number
as you have. DREW: And if you can’t play, you pick one? CAROLINA: No no no. If you can’t play, you pass. DREW: When is the round over? CAROLINA: When the first person who wins… DREW: Gets rid of all their dominos? CAROLINA: Yes. DREW: When you’re deciding which one to play,
how do you decide? CAROLINA: I try to lose as much points as
I can, and then I try not to lose all the numbers. So I can stay always without passing myself. DREW VO: In other words, you want to get rid
of as many dots as you can, but also try to leave a variety of numbers in your hand so
you don’t get shut out. Playing with a teammate across the table adds
another dimension. DREW: How do you strategize with your teammate? Can you talk about your hand? CAROLINA: No.
DREW: No. Okay. CAROLINA: Usually you have to see the way
that the other one is playing, and then from there you have to guess what is the strategy
that you both are gonna do. DREW: So the first domino you play is kind
of a signal to your teammate. CAROLINA: Yes. “This is probably what I have the most.” DREW: So if you have all the fours, it’s good
because no one else has them. CAROLINA: Mm hmm. DREW: Okay. CAROLINA: There are ten of all the numbers. So
they count, so they know what are the pieces that they have left. DREW: If you get good enough, you can start
to know what other people have. CAROLINA: Mm hmm. DREW: Yeah? ALFREDO: Yeah! DREW VO: Experts by now, Joey and I gave it
our best shot. JOEY: What’s the point of this game? To get rid of as many as you can? DREW: Yeah. And each dot counts as a point, so you want
to get rid of the high stuff. DREW VO: The theme of the night was “knock
knock,” the sound of our knuckles on the table signifying that we didn’t have any
playable dominos. EVERYONE: Knock knock. DREW: So I think I’m getting it. If you have a lot of one number, you want
to hold them until the late game, and then screw the other team. There was a point, they didn’t have any
twos, and I had a six and a two, and I could have played the six and blocked them from
playing any more twos! And then hope that Joey had the twos. JOEY: Alright, I think I’m getting it. DREW: Still, we were rookies, and got smoked. JESUS: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. DREW: You guys cornered the fours and the
nines! JESUS: I’m sorry, my friend. DREW VO: Despite our poor performance, we
had a good time. But it’s easy to have fun in a place like
Cuba where everybody is welcoming. Back at Sports City, a group of coworkers
was even kind enough to let the American have an at-bat. DREW: I feel like I still remember all my
Little League base-running strategy. This appears to be just a group of friends. This is not a team or anything. So I fit right in! ROBERTO: You can hear what you want, but this
is the form we live. As you see, nobody gets angry because of nothing. Only play, and enjoy. DREW: Even when someone like me comes and
interrupts their games. ROBERTO: You participated as a Cuban family,
no? “Let me play!” “Okay!” “Hey, you want to pitch? Come here!” That’s Cuban, that’s Cuban people. Always. DREW VO: Running around those bases, and sitting
around that table, felt so familiar. The feelings of competition and teamwork that
emerge from games are practically a language unto themselves. And despite the differences between us, it’s
a language we all speak. This is the second of Cloth Map’s videos
from Cuba. Previously, we spoke to the administrators
of Havana’s city-wide bootstrapped gaming network. Later, we’ll investigate Cuba’s involvement
in another Cloth Map subject, the Chernobyl disaster. And if you’re subscribed on Patreon, look
forward to an exclusive travelogue video, showing behind-the-scenes of our trip to Cuba. If you liked this video, or any of our other
ones, consider supporting us on Patreon. Regular folks just like you contribute a few
bucks a month to keep Cloth Map going. Their support helps pay for flights, lodging,
guides, translators, camera operators, editors, music licensing, and more. If you think learning about the world and
bringing us all closer together is important, we’d love to have you with us.

35 Replies to “Diamonds and Dominos: Cuba’s Love of Sports”

  1. These are better than Vice videos I see because he is not trying to pretend is above this or that he is sooooo cool by being here. He is being honest and asking honest questions, leaving his own ego at the door. Kind of like a real reporter would.

  2. No soy cubano, pero soy puertorriqueño, hermanos de la misma bandera. Drew, gracias por tú ángulo siempre honesto y humano. Gracias por la buena representación de cuba. Te sigo desde giantbomb hasta el final. Fuerzas.

  3. These are so good, Drew. I was never bitter about you leaving GB because you were chasing your dreams and it's not my business anyway but it's also nice now that you have made these videos that I can say that I'm glad you did. You're doing something special here and I hope more and more people watch these and support you. People need to realize that we're all just people no matter where we live.

  4. Love your guys work, thank you thank you thank you!. Recently reduced my subs from 270 to 60 and you guys were among the first picked to stay in my list. Quality stuff.

  5. Something very cool the guy at the beginning was wearing a japan hat, cuba and japan faced each other twice in a row in the world baseball classic

  6. I just want to say I'm really loving these Cuba videos. Everyone seems so friendly, I would love to visit there.

  7. Hey buddy, another well made video and your narration is brilliant. Thanks again for making these trips, you can feel the enjoyment you get from learning about the culture and the people in the places you visit.

    Thanks again and enjoy your next trip wherever it may be.

  8. Really wish Cloth Map would get more attention, it's like Andrew was made to be doing this sort of thing. Keep it up!

  9. Drew, you seem to possess the greatest skill of all time. You seem to be able to just connect with anyone you come across, it's so awesome to watch. Thank you so much for making these videos.

  10. Loved this video. Cubans aren't much different than any other nationality. Games do bring us together. Nice job Drew!!

  11. Some of my fondest memories of Cuba are also playing dominos with a bottle of white rum on the side. Despite the language barrier (My spanish is muy mal) it's truly a bonding experience and so fun when it's with Cubanos, if I were to do the same in Denmark people would get restless 9 out of 10 times withing an hour, Cubanos are just there in the moment, something we unfortunately have lost in "the west".

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