Nicaragua’s WBC Qualification Springs Life into Baseball’s Global Potential

Nicaragua 🇳🇮 has qualified for the World Baseball Classic for the first time ever.

Nicaragua, unlike many other nations who have made their WBC debuts via qualifiers, are a historic baseball nation.

When you talk to Nicaraguans about sports, generally speaking, it is through the language of baseball that you get most of your answers.

But, originally, those answers would not have been in Spanish.

Baseball was brought to Nicaragua by an American on the Miskito Coast on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua.

The Miskito Coast was part of the Miskito Kingdom, an off and on independent sovereign state that also was sometimes a protectorate of the English/British/United Kingdom. The people here speak English, indigenous languages such as Miskito, Sama, Rama, and Garifuna, and two English based Creoles called Miskito Creole and Rama Cay Creole, plus Spanish since Nicaragua has taken over. Many of the people here are Afro-Caribbean with roots descended from the British colonies.

The Miskito Kingdom in the 1800s; from The History Files. The Miskito Kingdom was a UK Protectorate until 1860, when it became Protectorate of Nicaragua. This Nicaragua Protectorate status allowed for the former Miskito Kingdom to control most of its laws and customs. Nicaragua forcefully made the Miskito Kingdom a full part of Nicaragua in 1894, destroying its autonomy, and made it the Zelaya Department after then Nicaraguan President. The impetus for this full conquer was to quash the British sentiment in the area that led to the UK trying to re-incorporate the Miskito Coast into its domain once again. In 1986, the Zelaya Department became two autonomous regions: the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region and the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Some in Miskito have called for independence as of late, but this has not gained much traction. For more information, check this link.

As a result, the Miskito Coast people were cricket players and most were English speakers during the 1800s.

So, when (US) American businessman, Albert Addlesberg, visited the new protectorate of Nicaragua in the 1880s, he decided he wanted to expand their sports scene into baseball. He saw that since these players were cricketers, they could easily transition into baseball.

And in 1887, two teams were formed: Southern and White Rose. They played in 1888 in the Miskito capital, Bluefields.

An aerial drone photo of Bluefields and their Central Park baseball stadium; from 123rf.

Then, in 1891, baseball made its way to the Pacific side of Nicaragua when a group of mostly (US) American university students founded a sports society called La Sociedad de Recreo. This society played many sports and had a former Nicaraguan President as the club president, Adán Cárdenas (Remember this name for later). As this sports club continued through the years, baseball became its go to sport.

Through these early years, baseball would develop into Nicaragua’s main sport in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

That same year, a team from Granada and a team from Managua played each other.

By 1904, the historic BĂłer de Managua was founded by US Consul to Nicaragua, Carter Donaldson. This team is still the most popular team in Nicaragua today.

Juan Carlos Urbina dominated in a 10-9 victory for Indios del BĂłer against Brumas de Jinotega in the Pomares  competition; from Leonardo Sevilla on the BĂłer website. As can be seen from this report, the BĂłers still continue to be a key factor in Nicaraguan baseball.

In addition to BĂłer, Russia from Masaya, Japan from Granada, and Chinandega Titan would be created soon after. Many of these team names had names resembling countries or groups of people at war, as the Boers were just fighting the British in South Africa, and the Russians were fighting the Japanese in a war shortly after.

In 1914-1915, the first national league would be created with these teams. Before this, only exhibitions and municipal tournaments would be played.

International competition between Nicaraguan baseball clubs and other Central American clubs began in 1924-1925 and the Nicaraguan representatives of BĂłer won, even over the champions from the USA’s Panama Canal Zone.

In 1932, the Pacific and Atlantic sides of Nicaragua had a combined competition with the Navy team coming from the Atlantic side winning all of their games. By mixing more Atlantic and Pacific Nicaraguans, the level of baseball improved. A Dominican Republic and a Cuban club would visit the country in 1932 and 1933 respectively, and would dominate in games against Nicaraguan clubs.

In preceding years, more international competition would arrive and many Cubans and (R) Dominicans would stay behind to help Nicaraguan baseball grow.

By 1935, Nicaragua and Panama would finish 2nd behind Cuba in the Central American and Caribbean Games, showing that at the national team level, Nicaragua was very good.

Baseball continued to improve and in 1956, Nicaragua created a professional league which at first was considered a Single-A level and independent as it was played during the summer. In 1957, it would become a winter league at the Triple-A level and would start to compete in various Latin American competitions.

Nicaraguan baseball was doing so well that in 1958, LeĂłn (Nicaragua) won the Pan-American series over teams from Mexico and Colombia, and then in 1964, Cinco Estrellas (Nicaragua) won the Interamerican Series over teams from Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

These wins were short-lived though, because in 1967, the professional league would cease to exist. Political and economic tensions brought a period of purely amateur baseball to Nicaragua, which allowed Nicaragua to still do well on the international stage, but only at the amateur levels of the sport.

During these years, Nicaragua began to excell in these national team competitions like the Baseball World Cup, as just like Cuba, their highest domestic competition was amateur and thus Nicaragua were able to compete with a lot of their best players.

Nicaragua won two silver medals in 1939 and 1949 in Cuba at the Baseball World Cup, as well as two bronze medals in 1947 in Colombia and in 1953 in Venezuela. But, after 1967, Nicaragua went on to win even more. Nicaragua won three more silver medals (1973 in Nicaragua, 1974 in USA, and 1990 in Canada), as well as three more bronze medals (1971 in Cuba, 1972 in Nicaragua, and 1998 in Italy).

Nicaragua got the right to host the amateur baseball world championship five times: 1948, 1950, 1972, 1973, and 1994.

These facts displayed Nicaragua’s high standing among the world baseball community.

Nicaragua also did well in other competitions. Nicaragua finished third four times at the Intercontinental Cup, has won two silver medals and two bronze medals so far at the Pan American Games, has won four silver medals and three bronze medals so far in the Central American and Caribbean Games, and has won seven gold medals and three silver medals so far in the Central American Games.

Perhaps, their most spectacular achievement has been at the Olympic Games where Nicaragua finished in the Top 5 in both editions they qualified for. Nicaragua finished in fifth in the Los Angeles (USA) 1984 Summer Games and fourth in the Atlanta (USA) 1996 Summer Games. These results were probably the highest level of international baseball prior to the creation of the World Baseball Classic, and therefore should be used as a way to build confidence so that Nicaraguans know they can compete with the best.

Omar Obando Varela pitches for Nicaragua versus the USA in a baseball game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on 20 July 1996 at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, USA; photo from Rick Stewart/Getty Images.

The professional era of national team baseball coincided with the return of professional baseball in Nicaragua.

In 2004, La Liga de Beisbol Profesional Nacional (LBPN) was created and in 2006, the World Baseball Classic started.

Unfortunately for Nicaragua, the first two editions were invitational and Nicaragua did not have a chance to Qualify for the WBC because they did not receive an invite.

Then, in the 2013 Qualifiers, Nicaragua finally got its chance. They entered the qualifiers in Qualifier 3 and were eliminated by their second game, losing to Colombia, 1-8, and Panama, 2-6.

In the 2017 Qualifiers, Nicaragua were in Qualifier 2, and had a much better result. Nicaragua beat Germany 5-4, and then lost to Mexico 0-11. Nicaragua returned with a 7-6 win over the Czech Republic, and made it to the Qualifier Final. This was the closest Nicaragua had been, but they would lose to Mexico again, this time 1-12.

The 2023 Qualifiers brought a new format that would help Nicaragua. Nicaragua opened up play following a bye in Round 1 with a 1-4 loss to Brazil in the Semi-finals. But, Nicaragua would respond after this with a resounding 12-0 thrashing of Pakistan in Lower Round 1, a 6-5 win over Argentina in Lower Round 2, and then a 3-1 win over Brazil in the Lower Final to Qualify for the World Baseball Classic as the #2 team from Qualifier 2 in Panama City, Panama. Nicaragua avenged its previous loss and won when it mattered most to keep their world championship hopes alive in their nation’s favorite sport.

Now Nicaragua will get to see its national team compete in the professional world championship for the first time.

Domestically, Nicaragua is continuing to develop more and more talent.

Nicaragua has a similar domestic baseball structure to the rest of Latin America. Nicaragua features a professional winter league, La Liga de Beisbol Profesional Nacional (LBPN), and then a semi-professional/amateur baseball league the rest of the year called the Campeonato Nacional de Béisbol Superior “Germán Pomares Ordóñez” de Nicaragua (Pomares). The LBPN consists of five teams that play from October to January or sometimes as short as December to January, while the Pomares competition features 20 teams, one from each of the 17 departments/autonomous regions of Nicaragua, plus one extra team for Managua and one extra team for the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, as well as one team for the former deparment and current de facto department, Zelaya. The Pomares alternates between its length of the season, but it has sometimes lasted 6 months during the off-season of the LBPN. This long Pomares season ensures that Nicaraguans are able to continually practice their trade at a high level.

The 17 Administrative Divisions of Nicaragua; from On The World Map.
Leones de LeĂłn celebrates winning the LBPN 2019-2020; from LBPN website.
Indios del BĂłer celebrates winning the 2020 Pomares competition; from Baseball GPO.

This baseball development has led to some key players like Dennis Martínez, Marvin Benard, and Vicente Padilla, as well as current MLB players like Erasmo Ramírez and Jonathan Loáisiga.

Dennis MartĂ­nez, or “El Presidente” as he has been called, is considered the best player to ever come from Nicaragua as he threw the first perfect game by a Latin American-born pitcher in the MLB, and the 13th overall perfect game at the time in a game for the Montreal Expos when they were playing at Dodger Stadium in 1991. Dennis MartĂ­nez was the first Nicaraguan-born MLB player, having played for the Baltimore Orioles (1976-1986), Montreal Expos (1986-1993), Cleveland Indians (1994-1996), Seattle Mariners (1997), and the Atlanta Braves (1998). He came from Granada earning four MLB All-Star appearances (1990-1992 and 1995), as well as being inducted into the Baltimore Orioles and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Nicaragua’s 30,000 capacity and new national baseball stadium is named after Dennis MartĂ­nez: Estadio Nacional Dennis MartĂ­nez.

Dennis MartĂ­nez pitching for the Montreal Expos; from La Vida Voices.
A highlight video of Dennis MartĂ­nez’s perfect game at Dodger Stadium; from Los Angeles Dodgers YouTube Channel.

Currently, Erasmo Ramírez and Jonathan Loáisiga pitch for the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees, respectively. But, there are other players that are still playing that have played in the MLB. One notable player is 2013 All-Star, Everth Cabrera, who led the NL in stolen bases in 2012. He played for the San Diego Padres (2009-2014) and the Baltimore Orioles (2015) mostly as a short stop. Since 2015, he has moved around a lot playing in Mexico, the minor leagues, and most recently in Nicaragua.

Erasmo RamĂ­rez playing for the Seattle Mariners away at the Baltimore Orioles on 29 August 2017; from Keith Allison Hannover, Maryland, USA.
Johnathan Loáisiga pitching in his New York Yankees debut against the Tampa Bay Rays in a win at Yankee Stadium in 2018; from Wendell Cruz/USA Today Sports, via Reuters.
Everth Cabrera steals third base on an error for the San Diego Padres in a 6-4 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on 15 June 2013 at Petco Park in San Diego; from Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports.

Another notable player has to be J. C. RamĂ­rez who has pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies (2013), the Arizona Diamondbacks (2015), the Seattle Mariners (2015), the Cincinnati Reds (2016), and the Los Angeles Angels (2016-2019), since moving around to play in Chinese Taipei and Mexico, as well as the minor leagues.

But it is probably Cheslor Cuthbert who is the best player for this story because he originates from the Corn Islands, two islands 40+ miles off the coast of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. The Corn Islands are known by their English name even in Spanish speaking Nicaragua, and their history is most peculiar. It is a heavy English speaking and English Creole speaking part of Nicaragua, and only was fully incorporated into Nicaragua in 1894, having been controlled by the British and pirates, plus the Miskito Kingdom off and on. But, it was leased to the USA for use from 1914-1971. This meant that the US could run the islands as they pleased, so long as Nicaragua was okay with it, while Nicaragua officially still owned the islands. This is the strange part of the world Cheslor Cuthbert originated from, and it is in this part of the world that cricketers became baseballers transforming Nicaragua into a baseball nation in the 1800s. Cheslor Cuthbert’s story thus creates a full-circle Nicaraguan story because Cheslor Cuthbert continues the importance of Anglophone Nicaragua to baseball in the Land of Valconoes and Lakes. His father taught him the game in English. In fact, the only language or lanaguages Cheslor knew growing up were English and the English Creole langauge in the Corn Islands, close to Jamaican Patois. Therefore, like the Miskito baseballers that started Nicaragua’s baseball history, Cheslor belongs to the Anglophone culture of Nicaragua. He learned Spanish later when he moved to Managua at the age of 15 to become scouted better by MLB scouts. Eventually he would make it to the Major Leagues, after signing a Nicaraguan record minor league contract. In the MLB, Cheslor Cuthbart played third base and short stop for the Kansas City Royals from 2015-2019, and with the Chicago White Sox in 2020, and has since moved to the minor leagues and then to the Liga Mexicana de BĂ©isbol (LMB) for the Leones de Yucatán who won the Mexican League in September 2022 (Cheslor Cuthbart was on the inactive roster). Cheslor Cuthbert is one of many Atlantic side Nicaraguans who are continuing the baseball story in English-speaking Nicaragua at the highest levels of world baseball.

Cheslor Cuthbart for the Kansas City Royals; from The Kansas City Star.
A picture of the Corn Islands from “Top10 Recommended Hotels in Corn Islands, South Caribbean Region, Nicaragua“.
Corn Islands from Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa).

In total, 15 Nicaraguans have appeared in the MLB so far, and currently, over 30 are in MLB organizations.

Not only are baseball players highly regarded from Nicaragua, but so too are announcers. The first Spanish language MLB announcer came from Nicaragua. His name is René Cárdenas, grandson of Adán Cárdenas, the former president of Nicaragua who was also the club president of the first Pacific side sports club with baseball as mentioned before. René Cárdenas became the first Spanish language MLB radio announcer to broadcast domestically in the USA in 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.

In 1966, René Cárdenas became the radio announcer for the first international network for the MLB, while doing Spanish language announcing for the Houston Astros that reached 13 different Latin American nations.

RenĂ© Cárdenas became well-known throughout Nicaragua for his journalism and announcing, writing for La Prensa, Nicaragua’s leading newspaper, and broadcasting for Radio Mundial, Managua’s top radio station. He then went onto to do play-by-play radio announcing for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 21 seasons, the Houston Astros for 16 seasons, and the Texas Rangers for 1 season. He even got to be an announcer for TV broadcasts in Spanish, although very sparingly, generally keeping to radio announcing and writing.

René Cárdenas on the left with his long time partner Jaime Jarrín who comes from Ecuador. These two were partners while René announced for the Los Angeles Dodgers; from Loren Elliott for The New York Times.

These Nicaraguan baseball legends have paved the way for the Nicaraguan youth, in which baseball has become their sport of choice.

While Nicaragua probably has underperformed in the youth levels for how good they have been on a consistent basis, Nicaragua has also done quite well especially for playing in a very difficult region. For example, in Little League, teams from Nicaragua have appeared three times.

Nicaragua competes in the Latin American Region for Little League with the likes of baseball giants like Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela, as well as giants like Mexico, Puerto Rico, Curaçao, and the Dominican Republic who used to play in this region for Little League World Series qualifications.

A team from Nicaragua’s Chinandega won the Latin American Region in 1968 and 1970, finishing 7th in Williamsport in 1968, and 3rd Place in Williamsport in 1970!

In 2022, Nicaragua returned via 14 de Septiembre of Managua who won the Latin American Region in dramatic fashion as Nicaragua’s “B” team, as Hermanos por Cristo of Chinandega was considered the top team and thus the “A” team. This side from the Nicaraguan capital had to get past proven sides such as a Venezuela team they defeated 10-0 to get to Williamsport. At the LLWS in Pennsylvania, Nicaragua would lose to Curaçao 0-2 in the opening round, and then had a fantastic run of wins defeating Puerto Rico 3-1, Japan 8-7, and Panama 8-1. This brought Nicaragua to the Semi-finals of the International Bracket as one of the last four teams from outside of the USA left, and one of eight teams in total left in the world. However, Nicaragua was unable to overcome a rematch with Curaçao which they lost 2-7.

This LLWS trip has resolidified the youth ranks of Nicaragua as a top nation once again.

Nicaragua wins 8-1 over Panama at the LLWS on Tuesday 23 August 2022; from AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar.

And mixing in the recent developments in professional level and youth baseball in Nicaragua with their recent infrastructure development has created an environment where baseball in Nicaragua is seen with the same enthusiasm from outside of the Central American nation as inside of it.

Nicaragua is continuing to update stadiums around its country and their most notable recent upgrade is with the new Estadio Nacional Dennis MartĂ­nez in Managua, which serves as Nicaragua’s national baseball stadium. It was redone in 2017 with lots of investment from the Republic of China (aka: Chinese Taipei or Taiwan). The stadium fits Major League Baseball specifications and there are plans to feature an MLB game there in the future. This stadium, as well as renovated Estadio Nacional Rod Carew in Panama City, Panama, where Nicaragua earned Qualification for the 2023 World Baseball Classic, are considered by many as the top stadiums in the Americas outside of the USA and Canada.

Estadio Nacional Dennis MartĂ­nez

The Estadio Nacional Dennis MartĂ­nez serves as the home for BĂłer, which is currently known as Indios del BĂłer. As a top Nicaraguan side, Indios del BĂłer plays in both the Pomares and the LBPN. This creates a very big rivalry with Leones de LeĂłn which attracts 20,000+ supporters to games played between both a lot of times. Indios del BĂłer are considered the most popular sports team in Nicaragua, and the BĂłer-Leones rivalry is considered the top rivalry in Nicaragua. The Indios del BĂłer have the most Pomares and LBPN national championships.

This has allowed BĂłer to compete in the Latin American Series, the competition very similar to the Caribbean Series, but generally considered one level lower for the countries whose winter leagues are not as highly rated. For example, many consider the LBPN to be Double-A, while many of the Caribbean Series leagues are considered Triple-A. Despite the BĂłer’s historic success, the best Nicaraguan side in the Latin American Series has been Tigres del Chinandega, who has won the Latin American Series twice, the most of any team regardless of nation. Two other Nicaraguan teams have also won the Latin American Series. Leones de LeĂłn won it most recently in 2019 and Gigantes de Rivas won the Latin American Series in 2016. The other leagues represented are Liga Profesional de BĂ©isbol Colombiano (LPB), Liga Argentina de BĂ©isbol, Curaçao Baseball League, Liga Invernal Veracruzana de BĂ©isbol Profesiona (Veracruz state winter league in Mexico), and BĂ©isbol Profesional de Panamá. The LBPN has the most Latin American Series titles between all the leagues.

The Tigres del Chinandega celebrates winning the Latin American Series in 2018; from La Prenza/Jarder Flores.

In addition to the main international and national level competitions, plus the youth leagues, there also exist more regional competitions, often for municipalities for adults. The most notable is probably the Atlantic Baseball Series (Series de Beisbol del Atlantico), the local baseball competition for those just in the two Atlantic autonomous regions of Nicaragua. Clubs from all over compete in this including those from the Corn Islands and the former Miskito capital Bluefields.

Yet, despite all this high level baseball, it was not until this most recent Qualifier in Panama City, Panama that Nicaragua could call itself a World Baseball Classic nation. And for many Nicaraguans, it felt like a stain on their country’s pride had been lifted as Nicaraguans everywhere rejoiced with jubilation because they now know their coveted national baseball team will get to represent Nicaragua at the professional level with MLB talent for the first time ever!

This is where Nicaragua deserves to be.

And for the wider growth of baseball around the world, having Nicaragua there makes the game stronger and more legitimate, because when Nicaragua plays, it is full of players who are from Nicaragua and developed in the Nicaraguan leagues, playing for their local neighborhood, municipality, and department. These players have made it through a system that displays the true level of baseball in Nicaragua, just as the teams from Japan, Chinese Taipei, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, South Korea, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, the USA, Puerto Rico, and the Netherlands do. Now, we will get to see Nicaragua thrown into the mix of baseball blue bloods, something Nicaragua should have been given in 2006 and 2009 as an invited team. This makes Nicaragua’s qualification very special because it proves that a country of barely over 6 million people can qualify with its own people, and should inspire similar sized nations and smaller ones to continue pursuing the prospects of the World Baseball Classic by investing money into baseball.

With the WBC coming in March, Nicaragua must start the recruiting phase and see which players they will bring that will mold best for a tournament which features the best nations in the world.

While Nicaragua is among the best for players from their nation, Nicaragua will have to remember that nations like Israel, Italy, the People’s Republic of China, Great Britain, and others tend to bring a large amount of naturalized talent that makes these national teams much better, although to be fair, Italy has a large amount of domestic born players that are very good too. In addition, the Czech Republic will make an appearance, and like Nicaragua and the baseball blue bloods mentioned before, appear to have an almost completely domestic developed and born lineup, but things could change, as even Nicaragua is expected to have a few naturalized players. Nicaragua will not play the Czech Republic or Great Britain in group play, and are unlikely to play them later on.

Most importantly is Nicaragua’s focus on the main baseball nations mentioned before. Currently, Nicaragua is slated for Pool D or Pool C according to most, but could land in any of them. In Pool D, Nicaragua would have to face the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Israel, while in Pool C, Nicaragua would have to face the USA, Mexico, Canada, and Colombia. Neither pool would be easy. The other pools include Pool A with Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Cuba, and Italy, and Pool B with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China. The Asian pools appear to be easier, but Nicaraguans would probably prefer the American pools due to closer travel and time zones, allowing more attendance and viewership, and chances to play against regional rivals.

Nicaragua may be a newcomer to the World Baseball Classic for 2023, but they are not a newcomer to baseball, and in terms of players and support, the Nicaraguans will show the world just how much baseball and Nicaragua go together. Baseball is a sport that transcends linguistic, ethnic, historical, class, political, cultural, religious, and regional boundaries within Nicaragua itself, and once again, baseball will unite the nation in March 2023 for their first chance at the professional world championship of baseball!

Nicaragua celebrates Qualifying for the WBC; from WBSC Twitter.
Nicaragua celebrates Qualifying for the WBC; from WBSC Twitter.
Watch Nicaragua’s 3-1 victory over Brazil here.

Published by CK 22

I like history, politics, foreign diplomacy, sports, and more. Basically, the most popular things, plus also geography.

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