With the World Baseball Classic recently wrapping up (go team USA!) and opening day upon us, we’re ready for some baseball. And for the super fans out there, we’ve rounded up five island destinations that prove the sport isn’t just America’s pastime, but an international hit as well. Pack your bags — soon you’ll be going, going, gone.
Baseball has a long and storied history in Cuba, with professional leagues dating back to the late 1800s. Today, the leagues’ schedules run over the winter (offering a much-needed escape from the cold weather) with the season generally concluding in April. While finding exact schedules can be tricky (ask the front desk at your hotel for tips), a great place to catch a game is Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano, a 55,000-seat stadium that is the largest in Cuba. Want to talk shop with Cubans? Swing by La Esquina Caliente (the hot corner) in Havana’s Parque Central and have a spirited discussion with the locals — it’s the dedicated spot for people to gather and talk (or shout) about baseball.
The island’s winter baseball league bears the name of Puerto Rican legend Roberto Clemente — the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente. Located in Carolina, the beautiful Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium offers a modern experience, complete with a video scoreboard and a statue of the stadium’s namesake. Games have a similar atmosphere to minor league games: family-friendly vibe, inexpensive tickets and plenty of food choices. Take an extra day to visit Carolina Beach and sample some of the nearby restaurants or just grab some frituras, a Puerto Rican specialty similar to fritters, from a street vendor.
Fans are familiar with the Dominican Republic as a baseball powerhouse — one look at the Dominican lineup in the World Baseball Classic showed that the country produces all-star-level talent for every position. Similar to Cuba, the Dominican League plays games over the winter, from October to January. Because it doesn’t overlap with Major League Baseball’s season, the Dominican Winter League is a good opportunity to see players from your favorite MLB teams play in their home country. Two teams, Tigres del Licey and Leones del Escogido, share Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo. Bring the entire family for less than the cost of a beer at a U.S. stadium, and enjoy the festive and passionate atmosphere that the Dominican fans bring to the game.
While not as popular as cricket or football, baseball is beginning to grow in popularity Down Under. The Australian Baseball League often serves as a place for American minor league players to get extra practice during the offseason, so it’s a good way to see the stars of tomorrow before they graduate to the big leagues. Back-to-back league champions, the Brisbane Bandits, play at Holloway Field, a cozy park located in the Brisbane suburb Newmarket. While a baseball game is a great way to spend a warm summer night, the famed beaches of Queensland’s Gold Coast are just a short drive away.
Are you such a big fan that you’ve traveled to Washington D.C. to see Bryce Harper hit home runs? Or perhaps you’ve gone to Los Angeles to watch Clayton Kershaw carve up an opposing lineup? If you visit Sapporo, Japan, you can see a player who does both — Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Otani is a rare talent who is one of the best pitchers and hitters in the league, and rumors persist that he wants to play in America. After a game at the Sapporo Dome, seek out a bowl of ramen (Japan’s fourth largest city is known as the birthplace of miso ramen) and wash it down with a flight of beer at the Sapporo Beer Museum.