I Found a Baseball Game in San José
I enjoy wandering around San José on Sundays. It’s the only day getting around on foot in the capital can be considered a stroll. Traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, is light, so navigating crumbling sidewalks and uneven roads is less of a stressor and more of a game.
With less emphasis on dancing through the crowds, I can allow my senses to explore my surroundings. And old wooden house, sagging under decades of tropical torture, provides a window into the past. Aromas of cooking garlic and onion waft from open windows. Instead of honking horns, I can hear men watching a soccer game, women hanging the wash, and children shrieking in shaded corridors.
And on Sunday, I heard one of my favorite sounds: the crack of a bat followed by a roaring crowd.
I walked toward the sound and found myself at Estadio Antonio Escarré, south of downtown San José. Baseball is not a popular sport in Costa Rica. Soccer has long been king, followed perhaps by cycling, boxing, surfing, and motocross. Throw something at a Tico and he won’t reach out and make a one-handed grab. He’ll let it bounce off his chest and kick it up with his feet.
Costa Rica is bordered by Panama and Nicaragua, both of which are baseball strongholds, and Nicaraguans are the largest immigrant group in the country by far. So it was no surprise that after I paid my 1,000 colones ($1.80) and stepped into the stadium, I only heard Nicaraguan accents in the stands.
The game was already underway. I don’t know who was playing because the P.A. system wasn’t working during the first game. But that didn’t matter. There is a simple joy in hearing a fastball hiss through the air and stop in the catcher’s mitt with a spank of leather while fans comment on the batter’s chances of reaching first base.
The game ended with a walk-off single to left, and the grounds crew got started prepping the field for the second game. There are no tractors pulling grading tools here. Instead, a guy worked the entire infield with a rake while a colleague hand sprinkled chalk for the foul lines.
By now the P.A. system was up and running, and suggestive reggaeton beats filled the air. The second game, between León and Dantos, started, and León’s pitcher quickly unraveled. He walked the first batter, gave up a bloop single, then hit the third. This brought up Dantos’ cleanup hitter, Zamora, a corpulent fellow who looked like he should be hanging his gut over a jackhammer instead of engaging in athletic endeavors. Zamora had a fan club sitting behind home plate. It was a group of vocal Nicaraguan women who cheered, jeered, and heckled the hitter on his way to the plate.
The fans are close to the action at Escarré, maybe 30 feet from home plate, so when someone in the fan club shouted “get a hit, you big idiot, we didn’t come here just to watch you stand around, it’s bases loaded, big boy,” I could see the smile form on Zamora’s face.
Once the pitcher started his windup, however, the batter’s face morphed into a pursed mug of concentration. Zamora fouled off the first pitch over the first base dugout. The pitcher got a new ball, came set, and delivered his second pitch right into Zamora’s left shoulder. It made a wet thud like a half-filled hot water bottle hitting a brick wall. “Good thing you have the right body type to absorb that pitch,” said the fan club. Zamora took his base, Dantos plated a run, and the rally had started.
Dantos scored four runs in the first, and I made my way to the second level. On one side were two men yelling insults at the players. From the other, a small black kitten trotted over and sat next to me.
I tried explaining the game to the cat. “Look how they’re shifting the outfield for this hitter,” I told him. He yawned. “Now watch this batter. He’s dropping his shoulder when he swings: if he makes contact, the ball will go straight up.” The batter swung and hit a popup to short. “See? SEE???”
The cat had its fill of my commentary and went to look for more promising patrons, perhaps those with food.
Overall, the quality of play was rather good. The teams made all of the routine plays as well as a couple of snazzy ones. Pitchers, save for León’s starter, changed speeds and threw efficiently. I would liken the skill level to that of a mid-level U.S. college team.
I don’t know who ended up winning because storm clouds were brewing and I wanted to head home before the deluge set in. Back to the streets of San José on a lazy Sunday. You never know what you’ll find.