Sunday, October 26, marked the 62nd anniversary for one of international baseball’s most storied cathedrals–Havana’s Latin American Stadium. The venerable edifice made its debut (before an audience of 31,000) on this date in 1946, celebrating a memorable lid lifter between the Cienfuegos Elephants and Almendares Scorpions of the old Cuban professional winter league. The impressive building has been a centerpiece for the current island-wide Cuban League since 1962 and has undergone only one major structural overhaul across its six-decade lifespan. The single significant upgrade came on the eve of the 1971 Amateur World Series and consisted of the installation of permanent cement outfield bleachers that raised seating capacity to 55,000. At the same time the ballpark was also rechristened as “Estadio Latinoamericano” (Latin American Stadium) thus shedding its original designation as “El Gran Estadio del Cerro” (Cerro Stadium, in common parlance). Between the late 1940s and early 1960s the building was also home to two Havana minor league clubs participating in North American organized baseball (the Havana Cubans of the Class B Florida International League thru 1953, and the Cuban Sugar Kings of the Class A International League after 1954). And in March 1999 it made a brief debut before US TV viewers while hosting the landmark clash between the Cuban national team and American League Baltimore Orioles.
The main calling card of the stately Latin American Stadium today remains its historic ambiance engendering professional baseball’s less commercial “Golden Era” past. There are indeed several older buildings still in use in the North American majors (Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park) but those largely revamped ballparks (now more closely resembling shopping malls than baseball venues) have little in common with their original pre-1950s structures. With no video scoreboard, an almost inaudible sound system, and total absence of concourse food courts and souvenir boutiques, Latin American Stadium remains an unsurpassed “baseball-pure” venue where the on-field game itself is truly the only “show” on display. Spanish-language readers wishing a capsule history of one of the sport’s most storied venues are directed to the essay penned by Ray Otero which appeared yesterday on www.baseballdecuba.com (see http://www.baseballdecuba.com/newsContainer.asp?id=979). And for fans who pride themselves on pilgrimage visits to the game’s most historic sites, no such touring “collection” is complete without a visit to Havana’s Latin American Stadium.