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by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

This city has painters who won’t consider any other color than bright blue. It is the bright blue we all immediately associate with the capital’s baseball team, the Industriales. Writer Leonardo Padura has made the tongue-in-cheek comment that in life you can change your wife, your political party, even your country, but you can never change your baseball team. Of course he was referring to the Industriales.

Becoming an Industriales fan is a little like falling head over heels in love—reason has nothing to do with it! You fall into a sort of trance where your nervous state is in a tizzy. I have to confess that this becomes fanaticism and then turns into addiction.

Kicking the Industriales habit, or at least not caring about their games, could be as complicated as giving up drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. For sure, this grand passion is worn with pride.

We can see it in graphic form throughout the city: sheets hanging from walls emblazoned with the team name, stickers on car windows, on bici and Coco-taxis, and even on the ferries going between Regla and Casablanca. Banners fluttering in the Caribbean breeze, filling their fans with hope.

Havana is symbolized not only, for instance, by the statue of the Christ that overlooks the Bay, or the Hotel Nacional, or the Malecón, or the Morro—there is also the baseball team. It’s not only the Paseo del Prado lions which guard the city; there is also the team lion which delights the fans at the Latinoamericano Stadium, the home of the Industriales, its symbol and good luck amulet. This lion goes way back, before the triumph of the Revolution, when Havana’s professional ball club of the era had the lion as its mascot.

Above all else, the Industriales team is a controversial phenomenon worthy of study by sociologists. They alone would be capable of unraveling love and hate with the same intensity. Most of our great Cuban ballplayers that have played on the Industriales’ rival teams confess that they have dreamed of wearing the blue uniform at some point in their careers.

Whenever some of the team members leave to play in other leagues, including the MLB, many of the club fans continue to follow their careers. Orlando “el Duque” Hernandez once said that he used to wear his Industriales jersey under his New York Yankees uniform.

Havana can never ignore whatever is cooking in the magical blue cauldron. As I mentioned, even its architecture gets painted from time to time by that strange tsunami that drags its fans along to cover surfaces with paint and symbols. On some of the roads into the city, the first things you can see are those symbols. The most widespread graffiti declares: INDUSTRIALES CAMPEÓN (Industriales – the Champs).

Let’s talk a bit more about their home, the Latinoamericano Stadium which can hold 55,000 fans. At each game, the party takes place under the watchful eye of the Number One Fan: Armandito “el tintorero” a veritable Cuban popular legend. Nobody could compete with Armandito “el tintorero”’s enthusiasm. He never missed a game along with his dog, Pillo Chocolate and would lead the cheering from his bench by third base.

The entertainment would never be complete at the stadium without his sayings in favor of the Industriales and against the rival team. After he died in 2004, a bronze statue was placed on his habitual seat so that he could remain permanently attached to his favorite baseball club.

The Latinoamericano Stadium is the only one in Cuba that gathers fans coming from every region. Each person brings along their own particular passions and the atmosphere is always one of friendly competition, testimony to the fact that being a cosmopolitan city is one of Havana’s most significant features.

You can see people in the stands sporting different team colors: green for Pinar del Rio, Santiago’s red-and-black and the orange of Villa Clara. They are all there together affirming that Havana is the great city it is. At the sporting events throughout the city, Industriales fans are distinguished for stating their opinions in an impassioned and unabashed manner. They broadcast steadfastness even if they should be mistaken—there is never any room for doubt.

The most visible and well-known sporting event is the one occurring daily in Old Havana’s Parque Central. Dozens of fans get together, day in and day out, to respectfully talk about baseball. Of course the main course at these occasions is Industriales.

Among Havana’s seductive passions that persist on a daily basis, the one inspired by the blues involves thousands of persons. Radio announcers in the capital have a special phrase: “ruge león” (the lion is roaring). It is the concept that being an Industriales fan and a resident of Havana are essentially one and the same thing.

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