Caracas, Maracaibo, Miami, Panama, San Juan, Santo Domingo. Collectively, these cities resonate in the world of Caribbean baseball in the way that a listing of “New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo” resonates in the world of high fashion. The only Caribbean baseball city clearly absent from that list is Havana.
Bobby Maduro was born in Havana in 1916. In 1954, he would become the owner and driving force behind the minor league Havana Sugar Kings, an International League club that played at the Havana ballpark now known as Estadio Latinoamericano, the largest and most famed park in Cuba. For Maduro, the Triple-A Sugar Kings seemed to be a stepping stone to his bigger dream, which was to bring a Major League club to Havana. But in 1960, after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and nationalized the economy, the wealthy Maduro was forced to emigrate to Miami––though, ironically, not before an exhibition game was played between his Sugar Kings and the “Barbudos” team led by Castro and fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.
In the late 1970s, the Cold War and the resulting isolation of a Soviet-backed Cuba were in full effect when Maduro set out to a realize a new dream, creating an elite professional baseball league in the Caribbean to play in the summer, a key challenge and distinction from the usual Caribbean winter leagues. Working with people in Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, Maduro found owners, stadiums, and coaches, laying the framework for what would become the Inter-American Baseball League.In 1979, the league was finally set to begin play between its founding clubs: the Caracas Metropolitanos, the Maracaibo Petroleros, the Panama Banqueros, the San Juan Boricuas, the Santo Domingo Tiburones, and the pillar of the league, its American entry, the Miami Amigos, who were managed by 4-time Major League All Star, Davey Johnson.
The league’s inaugural game was played on April 11, 1979, before 10,000 fans at Panama’s Estadio Arosemena, between the home Banqueros and the Miami Amigos, a game which the Banqueros won, 6-5, thanks to an unexpected two-out rally in the bottom of the 9th.
In June of that year, the San Juan and Panama clubs folded, a few weeks later the rest of the league’s clubs followed suit. Maduro’s dream had lasted for little more than three months.
Shortly after Maduro’s 1986 death, the city of Miami renamed the ballpark that had housed the Miami Amigos, among other local Minor League clubs, Bobby Maduro Stadium. The vote in favor was unanimous.
Guest blogger, Joe Swide