Photo by Joe Swide

La Pelota: Photos from Cuba's Serie Nacional

A visual journey through Cuba's one-of-a-kind baseball league, Serie Nacional, reveals a sporting culture previously unseen by nearly the entire world.

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Mar 12 2015, 2:30pm

Photo by Joe Swide

Cuba's Serie Nacional is the only baseball league in the world where a road trip can involve a five-hour voyage by boat to the place that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Recently, the club Granma, which was tied for first place, made that journey to Isla de Juventud, and I was able to come along. The only visible "star treatment" was for Granma's Alfredo Despaigne, who is the cleanup hitter for the Cuban national team and would, if he defected, likely be making millions of dollars right now in the Major Leagues. Despaigne was allowed to spend nearly the entirety of the sunset cruise topside, while the rest of us were confined to the cabin to watch a Korean bootleg of Dumb and Dumber To, and eat one of the boat's two meal options: a bag of bacon flavored corn puffs or a large pack of saltines.

The Serie Nacional reflects all of the horrifically over-romanticized "trapped in time" cliches of Cuba, but also the insane reality of what it actually means to be trapped on an island, to live in government-regulated poverty. The roar of the crowd when the national anthem ends to start the game at Havana's Estadio Latinoamericano is not far removed from the guys on Isla de la Juventud, sitting on a concrete rooftop behind the centerfield fence, who said that I had been to more towns in a week than they had been to in 5 years.

I spent three weeks in Cuba, from the start of the second stage of this 54th Serie Nacional on January 4 (the 16 teams that begin the season in September are reduced to the top 8 in December) through when the league paused for the Serie del Caribe on January 23. In that time, I traveled to all eight towns of the teams still competing and photographed the ballparks, players, and fans that make the Serie Nacional such a unique baseball experience

JANUARY 5TH, 2015. INDUSTRIALES AT ARTEMISA. ESTADIO 26 DE JULIO.

JANUARY 8TH, 2015. GRANMA AT CIEGO DE AVILA. ESTADIO JOSE RAMON CEPERO

JANUARY 10, 2015. HOLGUIN AT MATANZAS. ESTADIO VICTORIA DE GIRON.

JANUARY 12, 2015. MATANZAS AT INDUSTRIALES. ESTADIO LATINOAMERICANO.

JANUARY 14, 2015. ARTEMISA AT GRANMA. ESTADIO MARTIRES DE BARBADOS.

JANUARY 16, 2015. ARTEMISA AT HOLGUIN. ESTADIO GENERAL CALIXTO GARCIA.

JANUARY 20-21, 2015. GRANMA AT ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD. ESTADIO CRISTOBAL LABRA.

JANUARY 22, 2015. MATANZAS AT PINAR DEL RIO. ESTADIO CAPITAN SAN LUIS.