LA PELOTA (Baseball)
Tom Miller & Michael Descoteaux & St.Clair Bourne

In Cuba, baseball is more than a pastime. The sport that came to the island shortly after the Civil War is
not only a national passion but is engrained in the island's history and integrated into its national character.
LA PELOTA tells the story of how baseball has become far more than a just sport in Cuba.

Many strong links between Cuba and the US have existed and still exist to this day. One of the strongest links has been the game of baseball. Throughout this documentary, we will tell stories and introduce characters and incidents, both Cuban and North American, that have shaped the game ofbaseball in Cuba's social and political history.

For example, there was a vital role in the first half of the 20th century among Negro League players from the States, unable to advance in their own country, played part of every year in Cuba. They were welcomed in Cuba, where some of them became star players, coaches, and even had their pictures on Cuban baseball cards. When a Cuban player on a Major League team came home in the off-season he was treated as a returning hero, first for his exploits abroad, and second, for coming home at all. Cuban players were free-agents and could sell their talents when and where they wanted. One example, the legendary Martín Dihigo (DEE-go), sold his extraordinary talents so well, he ended up in the Halls of Fame of four countries: Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, and the United States (where he played in the Negro League). He was a top sports official in the opening years of the Castro regime.

In mid-century Havana, a new baseball stadium became a top civic priority, with housing and transportation molded around it. Cuba continued to excel in Caribbean tourna-ments, and when the occasional Major League team barn-stormed through the country, nationalistic identity interwove cheerfully with admiration of the visiting teams.

Veteran and current stars of la pelota. sportswriters, diplomats, even artists will describe and we will see - through archival footage, drawings, sculptures and news-paper clippings - different aspects of the game's history; its role in Cuba's history; and how it was used - and continues to be used - as a critical element in the country's political nature.

For example, Fulgencio Batista was a big baseball fan and had a regular box seat at the stadium in Havana. As a result the stadium was used as a propaganda battleground by anti-Batista forces in the 1950s, including Castro's own group, the 26th of July Movement.

Stadiums built in the Castro years have been given names that reflect triumphs of the revolution: in Matanzas, fans go to "Victory at the Bay of Pigs Stadium." In Pinar del Río, they go to "Capitán San Luis Stadium," named for a comrade of Che Guevara. Attending a game tacitly acknowledges the regime's presence. On occasion, a game will be briefly interrupted after a few innings for local Communist Party honchos to make a home plate announcement or hand out an award.

When the Cuban team returned from its victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1999, Castro greeted them at a rally at which he spoke of their win in explicit militatry terms. And, as everywhere, ballplayers involve themselves in government activities. Earlier this year, Cuba's greatest contemporary star, Omar Linares, gave a vigorous speech at a huge government rally supporting the effort to reunite Elián González and his father. The third baseman concluded it by shouting "Socilaismo o Muerte!" (Socialism or Death!)

In more contemporary times, the film will show examples of and explain Cuba's domination in international competi-tion at the Olympic and Pan-Am games, its excellence in games against Italy, Japan, Korea and other nations and how its success has contributed as a critical element to the country's international image.

Additional artistic elements to be developed into story sequences are:

1) sport sequences with Cuban ballplayers good enough for the American major leagues who play on natural turf in basic stadiums with the no exploding scoreboard, advertising, or costumed mascots;

2) short but explosive portraits of colorful, knowledgeable fans who explain the intricacies of the game;

3) performances by the salsa bands that show up at every game;

4) one of many stories will be El Tintorero, a man in his late fifties who leads rooting fans from the roof of the dug-out.

One element that distinguishes Cuban baseball is an elabo- rate nationwide network of state-run training academies for promising young athletes. These boarding schools - one in each province - take kids as young as eight years old, put them through a regimen of physical education and academics. The students practice all sports for a couple of years, then specialize in one. Once in the baseball section, Cuban boys fortunate enough to survive the annual reduc-tion process go through drills in the field, at bat and in clinics. Each boy is assigned a mentor, usually a former player from Cuba's own Major League, who works with the budding athlete and his family to mold him into a developed mature sportsman. The relationship between one such boy and his trainer could be the ongoing core story for this film but a scout trip to Cuba is needed to discover and develop such a story.

LA PELOTA will give viewers a glimpse at a country un-known to most North Americans. Its background reveals the broad sweep of Cuban history, and through the eyes of ball-players past, present, and future, we'll see the Cuban culture that shapes its context of baseball's development there. From the cement parks and sandlots of Havana, where card-board gloves, rocks, and sticks form the only equipment necessary for a game, to the soft countryside, where unmarked pastures and seaside outfields form the

stadiums. Just as the documentary Buena Vista Social Club showed more than just Cuban musicians, LA PELOTA will do likewise for Cuban baseball