February 26, 2005 [LINK]

Baseball in Nicaragua

My first tourist destination in Managua was the Estadio Nacional Dennis Martinez, named for the retired pitcher who won more major league games (245) than any other pitcher from Latin America. He played for the Montreal Expos (Nationals fans, take note!), the Baltimore Orioles, the L.A. Dodgers, and other clubs. I had to use a lot of persuasion to get inside to see the field, but they would not let me take any pictures because of all the trash that had been left there by a big crowd at an evangelical revival on the previous night. So I had to make mental notes of the field dimensions, numbers of rows, etc., etc. from which I will eventually derive a diagram for that "green cathedral" -- which actually was used for religious purposes! It was 330 feet to the corners and 400 feet to center field (or so they told me; I saw no such sign). Oddly, the shape was oval, with a huge arc behind the diamond rather like the Polo Grounds, though with 12 or so extra rows squeezed in behind the dugouts. In the large empty space beyond the outfield fence you can see wooden corrals, which are used when they hold bullfights here. Now there's a unique multiple-use stadium!

Nicaragua's deep poverty makes it very hard to run a professional ball club on a profitable basis, so baseball has had a rather precarious status there is recent years. For the 2004-2005 winter season, there have been four teams in the Nicaraguan League: Managua (the "Boers"!), Leon, Chinandega, and Masaya. Somehow Granada failed to qualify for a franchise. The sports pages here are full of news about Vincente Padilla, who pitches for the Phillies. The stadium in Masaya is named for Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash while en route to Nicaragua, planning to help with the recovery efforts after the 1972 earthquake.