What Is Typically The Favorite Sport In Puerto Rico – The World Baseball Classic game between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela drew a large crowd to Miami’s Lone Depot Park. Credit…
MIAMI – Impromptu dance parties broke out in the halls. One player beat a drum in the dugout, while countless fans in the stands did the same. Flags hung from the seats over the railing. The normally sparsely populated stadium was filled with people, roars and music. No strike is too small to celebrate. Sitting is optional.
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The setting is Lone Depot Park, but what happened Saturday and Sunday in and around the home of the Miami Marlins — the first two days of Pool D play in the World Baseball Classic — was in San Juan, P.R. Or maybe even scenes from Santo. Domingo, den Dominican Republic.
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Miami is often called the capital of Latin America, and it certainly felt that way when the national teams of the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela — heavily represented in South Florida — began play at the W.B.C. A quadruple-week tournament held during Major League Baseball spring training.
A social gathering for many Hispanic baseball fans. The first four games in Miami served as another example of how ingrained the sport is in these cultures and how differently it is experienced.
“This is our World Cup,” Omar Prieto, 28, of Puerto Rico said in Spanish, referring to the world’s most popular sporting event, the soccer tournament. Accompanied by his father and girlfriend, Prieto left Puerto Rico and landed two hours before the team’s first pitch against Nicaragua on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m filled with pride,” added Luis Gonzalez, a 36-year-old Nicaraguan who lives in Sweetwater, nicknamed Little Managua because of the large concentration of Nicaraguans in Miami-Dade County. “It represents all Latinos. It’s also where people like me live, people who immigrated here from Latin America, and it’s a great experience to have the W.B.C. here in Miami.”
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Prieto and Gonzalez each sat in adjacent sections of the stadium’s lower bowl. They didn’t know each other, but engaged in friendly banter during Puerto Rico’s 9-1 victory.
In Section 23, Prieto, who lives in Miami, his brother, and his brother’s friends are part of a group with seven drums, a bell and a giro, playing a hollow gourd by rubbing a stick against it. And throughout the game — but especially after their team’s notable moments — they played their instruments and sang a variety of Puerto Rican songs, sometimes glaring at the Nicaraguan fans to their left.
Every time the Nicaraguan team had a key hit or a big strikeout, Gonzalez and a dozen of his friends slammed empty plastic bottles against their seats in Section 24, swung wooden rattles and pointed at their nearby Puerto Rican counterparts. This continued throughout the afternoon, with both parties laughing at each other and sometimes dancing to the other’s music.
“It was spontaneous,” Gonzalez said. “It’s you and me, and me and you. You have the feeling that Latinos are enjoying it together.
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Gonzalez made it a priority to attend those fights — he took Monday and Tuesday off work — because he didn’t know when and if the first W.B.C. Participating Nicaragua will be in the tournament again. So to make sure his friends and family back in Nicaragua could watch the game — and last week’s tuneup contests — Gonzalez grabbed his cellphone to provide a live video feed on his Facebook account. He also explained at times, showing the double hilarity between the fans.
“It doesn’t compare to a major-league game,” he said. “Americans are calm and watch more. Latinos dance, play, mess around.
Miami Stadium is known for its low attendance for the Marlins, but the W.B.C. The weekend matches were packed with enthusiastic fans.
A baseball game without this passion and energy, Prieto says, is like “going to a concert without music.”
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Puerto Rican fans, in particular, brought many tools to their games, including Sunday night’s 9-6 loss to Venezuela. Informal bands scattered throughout the stadium played in the hall and drew in the crowd. Drums beat.
“Puerto Ricans celebrate victories and defeats,” said Francisco Claudio, 38. “It’s in our blood to celebrate.”
Claudio was outside the stadium after Saturday’s game, where a salsa band was performing on a concert stage, beer was still flowing and a Venezuelan food truck was selling arepas, corn-milk cakes. Claudio had bleached blonde hair everywhere, including his head and chin.
During the 2017 Puerto Rican’s incredible run at the W.B.C. In the final, where they lost to the USA, the players dyed their hair blonde and the fans started doing the same. The team was soon nicknamed Team Rubio or Team Blonde. The tournament, which was delayed by two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, continued the tradition.
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“It’s such an honor and a very fun experience,” Francisco Lindor said of fans bleaching their hair to match the Puerto Rican players. Credit… Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports, via Reuters
“It’s such an honor and it’s such a fun experience when you see everybody with blonde hair and their grandmothers and they don’t care how bad they look,” said Puerto Rico team captain and Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor. Throughout the games, Lindor said, he tried to capture the scene in the stands. “It’s unbelievable.”
However, the scenes are typical of the stadium. In 2022, the Marlins, who made the playoffs after winning the 2003 World Series, averaged 11,203 attendance at Londepo Park – ahead of the Oakland Athletics.
The lowest-attended game in Miami this weekend was Israel’s 3-1 win over Nicaragua on Sunday afternoon, with 19,955 in attendance. Announced attendance for Puerto Rico-Nicaragua was 35,399. Saturday night’s battle between the heavyweights — Dominican Republic-Venezuela, or, as some fans joked, Banana Power vs. Arepa Power — had the same crowd: 35,890. It seemed too much.
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“It’s more of a party than anything,” said Engers Dantes, 48, holding a championship wrestling belt he made for the tournament. It was decorated with pictures of the Dominican flag and bananas. Some fans even brought bananas to hold as props.
Dantes arrived Wednesday, and he said Santo Domingo and Miami airports were packed with people heading to the W.B.C. “
Tournaments for Rafael Castillo, 52, who has attended every W.B.C., left on Friday and planned to stay until the end of the first round on Wednesday. He and his brother, Wilson, 48, spent $7,000 on tickets, flights, hotels and food, but he said it was worth it. He had planned to go home for a few days due to work, but tournament favorite D.R. Will return to Miami if they reach the championship rounds.
“You can see the best athletes from your country,” he said. “A big league game doesn’t have this kind of emotion because your love for your country shows even more.”
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At the start of the match against Venezuela, the stands were assumed to be Dominican. But when Dominican ace Sandy Alcantara, the Marlins pitcher who won the 2022 National League Cy Young Award, made a splash on the mound, the Venezuelans took over. On the field, players pumped their chests, flashed the country’s name on their jerseys and waved to the crowd after big moments.
When left fielder David Peralta hit a two-run single to give Venezuela a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning, Jorge Marino, 36, and his friends were jumping up and down, shouting and hugging. One spilled his beer.
“Their fans beat us, but our team wins,” Marino said. He later added, “The vibe is amazing. It has a Latin flavor.”
Marlene Soler, one of many fans in Miami who support the Dominican Republic, has the Dominican flag painted on her eyelids.
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While the fans are intense, the mood among fans from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and elsewhere is joyful.
During pregame introductions, Marino said he almost cried when he heard his country’s national anthem. He follows Venezuelan baseball on TV and social media, but has not returned to his country for three years due to the economic and political crisis. He and his group of friends at the game are all from Maracaibo, Venezuela, but now live in the Miami area.
“We are out of our country for reasons known to all,” he said. “So watching your national team is very emotional.”
Venezuela long after D.R. Saturday’s 5-1 win — his first W.B.C. After a victory over its rival – and defeat of Puerto Rico on Sunday night – Venezuelan fans lingered in the stands and outside the stadium, still taking pictures, waving flags and cheering.
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Starting pitcher Martin Perez, who led Venezuela against the D.R., said that since the players were from Latin America, the noise level and instruments in the stands did not surprise them. Gary Sanchez,
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