Some might argue that the term Cuban Journalism is an oxymoron. At least in the baseball sphere there has been much more transparency of late. One scribe providing much of the information is Cuban Journalist Boris Luis Cabrera Acosta.
Boris is a salaried writer for La Tribuna Habana online and in print with a major focus on Industriales of Havana. He also freelances for Cubadebate for their coverage of the Cuban National Series writ large. The reality is that despite the income it is still very much a labour of love. I recently got to spend a full day with Boris as he walked me through his method of chronicling a full slate of games in Cuba’s top baseball league. Get inside the Dugout as I promise not to Boris With the Details.
I first became aware of Boris and vice versa during the 2019 Cuban team tour of the CanAm League. I had exclusive access with the team while they were in Ottawa. Boris made a request and I granted permission to use some of my photos. Later, I would find out that many of my images were front and center in print and digital media surrounding Cuba’s tune up for the upcoming Olympic Qualifier.
Visiting Havana in late 2019 I got to spend some time with Boris and interviewed him quickly. His sister acted as interpreter as neither of us felt completely comfortable conversing in the opposite language, english and spanish. However, Boris has been working on his english and I, my spanish, we meet somewhere in the middle on communication.
Returning to Havana in January of 2022 I wanted to dig deeper into Boris’ process. The one thing I have learned in my travels through Cuba is to be flexible in itinerary. My following Boris for a day in his standard routine only happened because the original plan of travelling to see a game in an adjacent province didn’t come to fruition. Boris had arranged a ride for us with a family member of a Havana player to neighbouring Artemisa. That player was injured the day before and thus his family would not be making the journey. I quickly pivoted to peeking inside a normal working day in the life of a writer in Havana.
Interestingly journalists infrequently travel to see games in other provinces. It may have been possible to travel on the bus with Industriales, but my inclusion presented a bit of a hurdle. Many involved with Cuba’s most famous squad are familiar with me and my work. I believe my reputation is solid, but receiving permission to travel on a game day proved to be a bridge too far. Instead, I took a short cab ride to Centro Habana and Boris’ modest apartment.
The third floor walk up although basic is well decorated by Cuban standard. Boris shares the space with his wife and one of his teenage sons who also acts as his extra set of eyes and ears on this day. Their small living room doubles as his office space. The TV, radio and desktop computer would prove to be the triangle that allows Boris to keep track of all the comings and going remotely.
On this day the Nationally televised game is between Guantanamo and defending Champion Granma. There are 16 teams in the Cuban National Series and thus 8 games daily, except Monday and Friday, which are travel days. Cuba is in recovery from Covid 19 and thus delayed the start of this National Series. Each team will play 75 games, which is a bit different than previous seasons. The January start is also closer to the end of recent seasons.
TeleRebelde is the country’s sports channel and typically provides one live game feed daily. Cuba has been in an energy crunch and thus very few night games are currently being played. The baseball Federation has announced that Industriales will be playing under the lights more frequently. These games will be televised in prime time. This doesn’t help Boris so much, as he usually attends the home games for Havana’s top team.
Cabrera Acosta must stay unbiased in his journaling but admits Industriales are where his allegiance lies in fandom. Originally from Matanzas, Boris grew up as a Citrucultores fan with an affinity for power hitter Lazaro Junco. The Citricultores merged with the Henqueneros in the early 90s to form today’s Cocodrilos. Now in his mid 40s, Boris has been in Havana for many years and cheers for the Blues.
When Industriales aren’t in town and aren’t on TV Cabrera Acosta relies on the radio broadcast to stay on top of his favourite squad and the team that garners most of his paragraphs. There is a game on the TV, a game on the radio and immeasurable web browser windows open seeking updates on the other six games.
Cabrera Acosta’s job and life have become a little bit easier with more recent introduction of Wifi in homes. He pays 500 C.U.P (Cuban Pesos) per 60 hours of uncapped internet in his home. The currency situation in Cuba has undergone some changes of late. Once a two tiered system with the C.U.C (Convertible Cuban Peso) and the C.U.P with the Convertible holding a 1 to 25 advantage. Cuba now has a solo currency.
At the same time, the Euro has replaced the greenback as the foreign fiat of desire. The stated rate is 1 Euro to 27 C.U.P. During my trip I was able to convert at rates as high as 1 Euro to 85. At that rate it would represent roughly 6 Euro per 60 hours. This hardly represents the cost for the average Cuban.
Before the advent of at home internet, Cuban Journalist Cabrera Acosta would have to rely on 1 hour wifi cards. Internet was available via hot spots in nearby parks. When Havana was in town he could complete most of his work in the press box of Estadio LatinoAmericano. This didn’t eliminate all the technical roadblocks but at least he was a bit more comfortable.
A throwback journalist, Boris is fuelled by cigarettes and coffee on this day. I attempted not to be a distraction asking questions in my broken spanish. Boris willingly answers in his broken english, which I think outpaces my language skills. Thankfully 90% of the message is non-verbal. My knowledge of Cuban baseball terms means we are mostly on the same page.
It is impressive the quality of work he produces with the improving but still lacking technical tools. This might be best exemplified in his photo work. Full disclosure, in 2019 I had provided Boris with a Canon Zoom lens I wasn’t using anymore. Camera equipment is very expensive and hard to come by on the island. Boris is using an older model entry level Canon D-slr. The review screen and video function aren’t working due to water damage. Boris relies on capturing photos when he can, his library of photos form past games and collaborations with other photogs to add imagery to his writing.
Cabrera Acosta steps away from our conversation to frequently update his narrative of the other games in progress. He frequently updates his visual templates that represent a baseball scoreboard for each game. His deadline for submission is typically later in the evening, if as today there are only game days. Boris will end up using most of this time. He puts in a full shift to make sure all the info he shares is accurate as can be corroborated. He confides, thankfully he only has to do this 75 times this year.
His day might end sooner if the official website for the league hadn’t stopped updating in the eighth inning. This delays putting the final stamp on the anecdotal recountings. He can’t release any pieces without complete box and line score details. Finally, after about two hours or at roughly 5 pm, the info comes through.
In that downtime he was able to craft most of his narrative for the broader league games. Boris will spend the next few hours going more in depth on the game he listened to. Industriales was triumphant vs neighbouring Artemisa.
7:30 pm comes and finally his duties for the day are completed. He will spend a bit of time sharing the content through social media channels. At this point we are able to share a sip of rum and review the day that was. At this point we discuss a bit more of my story and why Cuban baseball is so important to me. He thanks me for my contributions of photos from back in 2019. In reality the thanks is to Boris as it definitely expanded my reach and credibility in the sphere.
Industriales will return to Havana on Saturday for their home opener. We put together some plans to meet at the stadium and chat about our approach to photographing live games. He assures me I can gain access to the press pit for shooting. I jump into a small yellow hornet ‘Coco Taxi’ and make my way back to my hotel. Boris prepares to repeat the same methods the next day.