While American baseball fans get ready for spring training, I had the opportunity to go to a baseball game in Panama two weeks ago. It was the best game I have ever been to.
There are, it seems, 3 leagues in Panama.
Fedebeis runs a “juvenile” league and a Major league. ()
There is also a pro league.
The pro league ended in January. The major league is rumored to start up at the end of the month. However you will notice from the web page that they don’t actually tell you when it starts which is par for the course in these parts.
I went to the semi-finals in the juvenile league. The players didn’t appear to be “juveniles” i.e. little league but are seemingly at least 17 or so. You can read the rules for the league on the website but I sure can’t find what the age limit is.
Arriving at the game is not very difficult. The Stadium is not far outside of the city center, although on a Friday afternoon on the day before Carnvinal starts it took an hour in the taxi to get there as everyone was leaving the city for the holiday. It should normally take 20 minutes.
At the game were a buddy of mine, his taxi driver, and two German tourists we had met a few days before at my restaurant and who and wanted to come as they had never been to a baseball game.
Anyway, onto the game. It was Panama Metro versus Chiriqui Occidente. The game was a good one with Panama Metro winning 2-1. While the stadium itself was not up to american standards
What was special was the atmosphere:
First of all, there were no commercial breaks. The game moved along at it’s natural speed. The more important point however was the Panamanian flair brought to the experience.
I have often made the point that baseball is a lot like soccer. Now, before you choke on what you are eating let me explain:
For most of my life growing up and living in the United States although I played soccer as a kid I thought watching it on TV was boring. That all changed for me on my first trip to Africa. I had a 12 hour layover in the airport in Accra. While there Ghana was playing in the World Cup. I was sitting at the bar with another American guy I met and every time Ghana scored the airport basically stopped as everybody celebrated and airport employees ran through the airport jumping up and down and hugging each other. This was the first time I understood how passionate some people were about soccer and I wanted to understand why.
I finished watching the rest of that world cup with friends in Kenya. Later on, while watching matches on TV in restaurants or cafes in Italy, Albania, and now Panama I have come to like and enjoy soccer.
In essence, it’s a cultural thing. It’s something you do with your friends and your family and that you follow and talk about at work, at the bar, etc.
In that sense, baseball is the same thing. Although the nature of the game is totally different than soccer it is by and large something learned culturally that you learned from your father and talked about with your friends.
Just as Americans don’t understand why anyone would watch 90 minutes of Soccer, Europeans don’t understand why anyone would sit through a baseball game.
Both games suffer from long stretches of nothing really interesting happening. Baseball makes up for this with it’s obsession over stats to fill the gap, soccer does it with drinking, crowds singing songs, and the like.
Here’s what’s great about Panamanian baseball:
It’s a baseball game with a soccer crowd, only instead of singing there are bands. Two of them. Each team brings it’s own band – and the bands don’t ever stop playing. In fact, they usually play at the same time.
Here is a video of the Chiriqui Occidente band close-up:
And here is a video that captures the effect of the two bands playing at the same time and also shows a few pitches:
The beers are a dollar, and when the beer guy comes he leaves you the cooler.
Here is what happens when the game ends… flying beer:
And here is the must see post-game celebration out on the concourse. I’ve never seen anything like this at a baseball game in the US:
When all is said and done, it was a great time and it is a reason why baseball fan should consider Panama for their winter vacations, especially when you consider the prices.
Ticket: $4 Beer: $1 Hat: $5
Here’s my obligatory selfie wearing my new hat: