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c. 1960

No, Fidel Castro wasn’t drafted by the Yankees. But you can still see him on the mound

Vintage photos show the Cuban leader's love for this classic American sport

There is a persistent myth that Fidel Castro, the Communist guerrilla fighter turned Revolutionary leader, Cuban Prime Minister, and President, was, as a student, scouted as a prospect for U.S. Major League baseball teams. This is not true.  But it is true is that Castro, in common with a very high number of his fellow Cubans, adored the sport.

c. 1964
Castro opens the baseball season in Havana, Cuba, 12th February 1964.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Displaying his prowess as a pitcher, Cuban leader Fidel Castro fires one from the mound.
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“I never became a champion—but I didn’t practice much.”
Fidel Castro

For Castro, to succeed at baseball— massively popular across Cuba since its introduction in the 1860s, and tantamount to the country’s national sport—represented the opportunity to beat America at its own game. Literally.

Baseball had been widely taken up in Cuba as a replacement for Spanish colonial sports. Indeed, Cuba’s Spanish rulers had even banned it after the First Cuban War of Independence in 1869.

c. 1966
Castro bats against two pitchers at the 1966 National Amateur baseball series, Havana
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Castro poses with Commandante Camilo Cienfuegos, commander of the Cuban Army, in the Barbudos baseball team uniforms prior to game against the military police, Gran Stadium, Havana, Cuba. Castro would pitch one inning in the game.
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Shortly after he came to power in 1959, Castro formed and played in an exhibition baseball team called Los Barbudos (The Bearded Ones), its number drawn exclusively his revolutionary comrades. Los Barbudos regularly played in exhibition games during Cuba’s professional seasons.  As far as Castro was concerned, seeing Castro in baseball regalia showed Cubans that their leader was just like them—he too loved their game.

Close-up of Fidel Castro in baseball uniform of the Barbudos team
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c. 1965
Castro inaugurates the 1965 Baseball Championships before a large crowd at Havana’s Latin American Stadium.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images
“His fastball has long since died. He still has a few curveballs which he throws at us routinely.”
Nicholas Burns
United States State Department Spokesman

A year later, in 1960, Castro banned professional sports outright, on the grounds that it was in direct opposition the ideals of the Revolution. Sports in general, and baseball itself, was repositioned as a way for men to maintain fitness in order to contribute to the building of the nation, and to prepare for military service.

Yet the end of professional sports did not undermine Cuba’s international achievements on the diamond. Far from it. Even today, the Cuban national team is the most successful team to have competed in the Olympic Games.

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