Baseball in Cuba:Comparing to MLB: Apples to Naranjas

Map of Cuban Baseball Teams via Cubadugout

Get Inside the Dugout and join me as I compare Apples to Naranjas and try to figure out who to cheer for when watching baseball in Cuba.

Professional sports in North America were the first domino to fall in what became universal lockdowns of our society in March 2020. Covid-19 presented the perfect storm. Due to this people were at home looking for entertainment but TV sports options were limited. ESPN even started broadcasting Korean Professional games as many people were clamouring for live baseball in any form.

This new audience for these leagues had people quickly trying to figure out who their favourite team should be and for many the easiest was to cheer for the team that most closely resembles their favourite Major League Team. I’ve seen some articles trying to draw these comparisons, so I decided to rip them….er do the equivalent for the Cuban National Series.

1. Baseball in Cuba: The Easy Comparison Division

Industriales of Havana are the New York Yankees. Playing in the biggest markets in the grandest cathedrals of stadiums. They both fly the most championship banners in their respective leagues. Industriales and the Yankees are made to be loved or hated. They leverage their big market status. Because of this even if they aren’t the most competitive they’re usually the most relevant.

Industriales of Havana The Yankees of Cuba

Santiago de Cuba Avispas are the Los Angeles Dodgers. Because they both play in the second biggest market on the other side of the country. The Cities each have a more laid back vibe compared to the hustle and bustle of New York or Havana. Each trail in number of championships but can stake claim to more titles than most franchises. The Avispas however can make serious claim to being the most successful Cuban team in modern times. All 8 of their championships have come since the restructuring of 1977.

Villa Clara Naranjas are the St. Louis Cardinals. Due to each representing the heart of the middle of the country. Each are a mid size market yet remarkably have the 2nd most Championships of all time. Villa Clara is tied with Santiago with eight titles. Because they are well run organizations that often get glossed over by being in smaller markets yet always seem competitive the Naranjas are the Cardinals.

Holguín Cachorros are the Chicago Cubs. As their name translates to Cubs and was adopted due to their lovable loser status. The 2002 Championship for Holguín surprised fans of baseball in Cuba. It may not have been as dramatic as the 2016 Cubs breaking their 108 year title drought. Both championships shocked their selective baseball cultures though. If that logic doesn’t work for you how about the fact that Aroldis Chapman played for both?

Holguin Cachorros the Cubs of Cuba

2. The OK, I Can See That Division.

Pinar del Río Vegueros are the Atlanta Braves. Even though the franchise has existed for a long time because the current Vegueros started playing in 1992. They had a fabulous run in the 1990’s, as did Atlanta. They were Buoyed by some of the top pitchers around (Lazo + Contreras = Braves Big 3?) and arguably the best third baseman of all time (Omar Linares = Chipper Jones?)

Sancti Spíritus Gallos are the Baltimore Orioles. I originally compared to the Mariners, see entry below. The Gourriels are considered the first family of baseball in Cuba. They might only be matched by the Boones or Ripkens in America. Yuli came up as a Shortstop, the father was the manager and the other brother (eventually both other brothers Yuniesky + Lourdes Jr.) played on the team as well. They both wear Orange and are named after birds, sounds a bit Ripken-esque (Cal Sr./Jr. + Billy) to me.

(original) I originally had this as the Seattle Mariners due to thinking they had the most exciting young hitter in a generation playing for the same squad as his father with his younger brother in the same system. Am I talking about Yulieski Griffey or Ken Gourriel Jr…you know what I mean?

Guantanámo Indios are the Cleveland Indians. Yeah I’m being a bit lazy here based on the fact they share the same name. Both cities are better known for being considered prisons, one for international offenders the other for their fans. Thanks to this the Indios are the Indians or whatever Cleveland will rebrand as.

Cienfuegos Elefantes are the Oakland A’s. I originally compared to the Red Sox, see entry below. This also means there is likely not a team that compares closely to Boston .A long history which began in another city, both sport the Elephant as their logo and wear green. At their modern peaks they were led by a transcendent athletic Cuba Outfielder with amazing athletic tools (Canseco/Puig) and a prodigious home run hitting first baseman (McGwire/Abreu). The Cienfuegos Elefantes might actually spend more on their team than the A’s though.

(original)My bias against the Red Sox will show through but I‘ll argue I’m being objective since the Elefantes are likely my favourite Cuban squad. so…A long and storied history with a large championship drought brought about by the loss of transcendent talent. Babe Ruth to the Yankees; Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Yasiel Puig to MLB. The Elefantes won multiple championships in the earlier Cuban leagues and were defunct for many years before returning in 1977, what was the Red Sox excuse for an 86 year drought?

Ciego de Ávila Tigres are the San Francisco Giants. Largely because of the Giants-Championships in 2010, 2012, 2014. And the Tigres-Championships in 2012,2015,2016 Yeah, its not the most inspired, but at least I didn’t just say the Detroit Tigers.

La Isla Piratas are the Washington Nationals. Take what I said about being lazy with the Tigres and Tigers and here we are with the Piratas and Pirates, however La Isla is a special jurisdiction a literal island. Compare it to the special jurisdiction and veritable island that is Washington D.C. Years of suffering in Montreal/Washington culminating in a Title, well La Isla can at least relate to the suffering part.

La Isla Piratas the Nationals of Cuba

Las Tunas Leñadores are the Houston Astros. A team that was always just sort of there before finally breaking through and winning a championship. The Astros 2017 and Las Tunas in 2018. Both teams had lineups full of bangers, the Cubans did it in the batters box. Yordan Alvarez the young star for Houston also played for Las Tunas.

3. Baseball in Cuba: The I Started this Article and Have to Finish it Division.

Granma Alazanes are the Toronto Blue Jays. Thanks to Back to Back Championships after a long string of having competitive teams but not breaking through. The Alazanes most closely resemble the Blue Jays. Plus Canadians enjoy visiting both to watch baseball games during their vacation.

Matanzas Cocodrilos are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Because both cities are renowned for their bridges, two of the older baseball cities anywhere. The Pirates can only hope the recent championship for Matanzas is a harbinger of things to come though. Looking at the 2021 Pirates roster if you replaced them with the Matanzas Cocodrilos, would anyone notice?

Camagüey Toros are the Milwaukee Brewers. Camagüey is home to one of the biggest breweries in the country. This at least makes the squads more tolerable. The teams are never terrible and never great. I recently saw that the Brewers are celebrating 50 years, bet you didn’t think it was that long either, Go Toros. Watch Camagüey win the title in 2020 after making the finals last year just to show me.

Artemisa Cazadores are the Tampa Bay Rays. They are both expansion teams that have had some playoff success. Because of their ability toAdeptly develop young talent before they go elsewhere, the Cazadores are the Rays.

Mayabeque Huracanes are the Miami Marlins. Not that far from Miami geographically a newer squad that nobody really expects to win. I am going to glance over the Marlins two World Series just like the rest of you do.

Mayabeque Huracanes the Marlins of Cuba

Phil Selig

Canada’s Top Expert on Cuban Baseball. I first ventured to the island in 2012 with camera in hand and captured some of the future baseball stars of the world. I have returned many times immersing myself in the game and culture. Get inside the Dugout for a unique look at Cuban Baseball.

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