Bulls, bears, frogs and lions
It all began in 2016. Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro sat together in the stands in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano exchanging pleasantries; signaling the renewal of relations between their estranged nations.
As Cuba stood poised on the doorstep of its amazing economic transformation a different path was unwinding before the citizens of San Juan.
Across a thousand miles of waters where pirates preyed upon the wealth of the New World, Puerto Rico found itself mired in debt. Relations between the two countries soured as Cuba rose to become a vital regional player in the Caribbean economy. The first act of the play ended when Havana signed the lucrative Cuban-American Free Trade agreement in 2018 and Puerto Rico was forced to restructure its economy by the United States.
Years passed. The Treasure of Lima was found. The Cubs won the World Series. (Only kidding, the Cubs never did win the World Series before the collapse of MLB; but you still hoped it was true didn’t you?) Finally in 2021 PEBA expanded, came to Havana and the Leones began their quest for the Rodriguez Cup. They won the Division in 2023. Things were looking good for the local nine. With the new PEBA media deal in 2023 and some contraction/reorganization the stage was set for the second act when PEBA came knocking on San Juan’s door and awarded them the Coqui franchise.
In the first game of the new season featuring the two clubs the drama bubbled over in San Juan. After Havana answered an early Puerto Rico lead with a crooked number in the second inning putting the Leones ahead 4-1, the Coqui had rallied back to within a point of the Leones making it a 4-3 contest in the bottom of the 4th.
Top of the 5th, Havana struck back when San Juan’s Juan García uncorked a wild strikeout pitch that went all the way back to the wall allowing Rod Martin to reach first. Obviously frustrated, García’s next pitch was high and inside sending Hiroshige Takeda sprawling in the dirt. The dugouts starting barking at each other. A fan threw a poorly aimed pizza at the ump. After his ejection things calmed down bit.
García, in the stretch came right back at Takeda. With better aim than the pizza chucker he struck the glaring batter squarely in the ribs. Takeda began his charge to the mound before the ball hit the deck. The dugouts emptied faster than a shipyard at the afternoon whistle. The usual stuff ensued and Takeda and García found themselves in the showers.
Several fights broke out in the stands between rival fans. Fortunately no more pizza’s were lost. The park was buzzing all the rest of the series. An increased police presence kept pot from boiling over.
Havana took the four game series with three wins but San Juan got the last laugh winning the final game.
It’s going to be a fine rivalry. Act 4 begins May 27 in Havana. See you there!