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World & Nation

Photos: One moment on a practice field: Cuban baseball’s past and uncertain future

Javier Betancourt, 7, reaches to shake Coach Lazaro Castillo’s hand, thanking him for a good practice. Castillo returns his hulking hand, weathered with age, but still strong and soft, like it must have been when he played for the Cuban Professional League Industriales more than decade ago. The moment exemplifies Cuban baseball -- a strong past reaching out to an uncertain future.

As more children play soccer instead of baseball, men such as Castillo soldier on, teaching children such as Javier the art and fundamentals of their national game. There is little, if any, money from the government to run the junior leagues. Parents pay on average 1,500 Cuban pesos for their child’s gear. Many make only 1,000 a month.

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The boys practice at a barren field known as “the Hole.” Dead grass and uneven dirt surfaces don’t discourage the team, called Equipo Plaza. Even after more than two hours of drills and games, the future of Cuban baseball plays with exuberance – ignoring the coming storm clouds as they block the setting sun.

Sebastian Figueredo makes it to home plate, eluding the tag of Alphonso Campos during practice at the Havana sports field known as the Hole. Filled with potholes and covered in dead grass, the field often turns into a small lake during storms. The Equipo Plaza team plays in an instructional level league and is coached by former Cuban major league player Lazaro Castillo.

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René Martinez, 7, takes his turn at bat during practice for the Equipo Plaza squad. The seaside lot where the team practices is uneven and covered with dead grass.

Lazaro Castillo, right, a retired baseball player who played for the 12-time Cuban League champion Industriales, coaches 7- and 8-year-olds in an instructional little league.

Dario Gonzalez, 7, puts great effort into running the bases during practice for the Equipo Plaza squad.

Ismael Manzano, 7, tosses a ball during a break at practice. Equipo Plaza competes in an instructional league in which each team gets nine at bats an inning, and every player plays at least one inning.

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Equipo Plaza teammates flinch as René Martinez misses a ground ball during infield practice. The field the team practices at, called the Hole, has hard, uneven ground, making it difficult for players to field balls.

Luis Noel Kindelan, 8, runs to first base after hitting the ball during practice at the Hole.

An aging wall serves as a backstop to baseball played at the Hole, as Ismael Manzano fires a throw to second base during an Equipo Plaza practice.

Lazaro Castillo, a retired baseball player who played for the 12-time Cuban League champion Industriales, coaches 7- and 8-year-olds -- the future of Cuban baseball.

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Storm clouds move over the setting sun as practice continues for Equipo Plaza at the Hole in Havana.


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