Nicaragua is a nation located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Costa Rica and Honduras. The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. There are approximately 6 million inhabitants of Nicaragua, and nearly all of them play baseball.
Baseball was introduced to Nicaraguans in a bit of a roundabout way. An American businessman named Albert Addlesberg convinced two cricket teams made up of ex-pat British players to switch to the game of baseball. He imported all of the needed equipment from his home in New Orleans. As the popularity of the sport began to grow, new teams began to form and those new teams required new players. As a result, the native Nicaraguans were invited to join and try their hand at baseball. At that moment, the flame of Nicaragua’s national passion was ignited.
The first official games were played in 1891 in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. A U.S. Consul named Carter Donaldson founded a team 14 years later in that same city of Managua and named them the “Boer.” There is a popular myth that the team was named after the Boer war, but the Boer is the plural form of a tribe indigenous to Nicaragua. The team continues to play to this day.
In 1914, a league was formed consisting of the Boer, a second Managua team – Masaya, Léon, Chinandega and Granada. It was known as the Interlocal League. In 1932, a Nicaraguan team composed of players from both the Atlantic and Pacific coast (they were previously segregated) managed to go 40-3 in the Interlocal League. That same season, they hosted the infamous Ciudad Trujillo team. Nicaragua was defeated handily, but word passed around the Negro League players that Nicaragua was a great place to play ball. Barnstorming teams traveled to Nicaragua with more frequency and many of the players stayed to teach Nicaraguan players the fundamentals of the game. Three players from Havana, Cuba’s Almendares team stayed in Managua following a trip to play the Boer in 1934.
In 1956, a professional baseball league was founded in Nicaragua, known as the Liga Nicaragüense de Beisbol. In their first season, the LNBP operated as an outlaw league – much like the Federal League to Major League Baseball. Teams would raid other Latin-American leagues for players, especially the Mexican League. The most notable player to play in the league that season was Conrado Marrero. Connie joined the Léon club following the conclusion of the AAA International League Havana Sugar Kings‘ season. Marrero went 12-3 and had a 1.67 ERA. (source)
Late in the league’s second season, a formal affiliation with organized baseball was ratified and the LNBP became a bona-fide winter league. Players such as Jim Kaat, Fergie Jenkins, Bert Campaneris, Lou Piniella, and Mike Cuellar all cut their teeth here. The league did well until 1967, when economic struggles combined with political instability in the country forced the league to shut down. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. An embargo set by the U.S. prevented Nicaragua from importing baseball equipment. As a result, Major League teams all but ignored Nicaraguan players in terms of scouting (although the Toronto Blue Jays smuggled a player out named Brant Jose Alyea. He never advanced beyond the minors and reportedly wound up in the Mexican League. [source]).
While amateur baseball in Nicaragua thrived in the 70s and 80s, the country did not see a return of professional baseball until the turn of the millennium. The LNBP was re-established in 2004, although it was fraught with problems. As journalist Tim Rogers wrote, “the last two seasons…ended disastrously, with teams forfeiting, fighting each other on the field or collapsing in financial ruin.” (source)
After years of turmoil, the league is flourishing once again. Today, the LNBP consists of four teams: the Boer Indios, the Chinandega Tigres, the Granada Orientals and the Léon Lions. Some notable Nicaraguan players have come back home to play in the league in recent years: Vicente Padilla, Wilton Lopez, Erasmo Ramirez, Everth Cabrera and Devern Hansack. Cubans have also kept up the tradition of playing in Nicaragua. Barbaro Cañizares and Michel Abreu are both LNBP alumni.
Devern Hansack. For more on Hanack, be sure to check out this great Amy K Nelson story.
While the current and former Nicaraguan players mentioned above are great role models for young Nicaraguans, they all pale in comparison to Nicaragua’s greatest player: “El Presidente” Dennis Martinez. The former Montreal Expos’ 245 wins are the most by any Latino pitcher in the history of the game. Although he never had a 20-win season, he did pitch a perfect game once in his career. Even better, the game was called by the legendary Vin Scully:
The Boer Indios’ stadium bears his name: Estadio Dennis Martinez. For details on the stadum, check out Andrew Clem’s review here. Don’t be too quick to visit, however. Says Martinez: “It’s a shame. That stadium is way too old. It survived the hurricane [Mitch, in 1998], but they say it can come down at any moment.” (source)
The Nicaraguan national team will be traveling to Panama to play in the well-built Rod Carew National Stadium for the qualifying round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Nicaragua leads this group with a No. 14 world ranking by the IBAF. They’ll be part of a group that includes Colombia, Brazil and Panama ranked just behind Nicaragua at #15). Like Brazil, a qualifying berth and the associated funding that comes with it could do much to improve the level of play in Nicaragua:
“It’s their national pastime,” says MLB’s Rafael Perez. “We (feel) a resurgence of players could come out of there if there was more infrastructure.” (source)