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With the signal to "play ball" in the island's baseball finals, Cubans have immersed themselves for a week in a sport so close to the heart it has even entered their language of love.

"Problems are over for the week, people forget everything else, the shortages, the transportation problems, the long lines, everything, absolutely everything," said Fausto Dominguez, 55, a hotel employee in Old Havana.

"No soap opera tonight!" shouted the headline of Juventud Rebelde, as Cubans switch over from the intrigued-packed, ratings-busting Brazilian television series "La Favorita" during the play-offs.

This year's baseball finals pit Industriales, a Havana team known as the Blue Lions, and Villa Clara, the Orangemen from central Cuba, in a series of as many as seven games for the crown of the 16-team league.

More than the national sport, baseball is a passion here, to the point that it has become part of the lexicon of daily life.

A lover discovered in an infidelity is said to have been "caught off base" and if the relationship breaks up, they "gave him the bat." To be "between second and third," is to be trapped in a dilemma, and a "number four batter" is someone of great
power and strength.

To get in the spirit of the finals, the Puerto Rican hip hop group Calle 13 donned the shirts of the Cuban national baseball team at a huge free concert Tuesday at Havana's Jose Marti Anti-Imperialist Plaza.

Kelvis Ochoa and other Cuban musicians returned the compliment by wearing the colors of the Puerto Rican team.

The opening game was in Santa Clara, a city 280 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana that is custodian of the remains of revolutionary icon Che Guevara and his Bolivian guerrilla comrades.

Santa Clara beat Industriales 3-2 Tuesday night. The team that is first to win four games wins the series, which can play out over as many as seven games over the coming days.

On opening day, Havana turned out in blue, wearing the blue T-shirts and caps emblazoned with a gothic I, symbol of Industriales, one of two Havana teams, the other being Metropolitanos.

"I'm going to finish work early, buy my little bottle (of rum), eat and at 8:30 pm I'll be in front of the TV with my pals from the neighborhood," said Victor Ortega, a 38-year-old carpenter who like many Cubans cannot bear to be alone when he watches baseball.

The official Communist Party newspaper Granma announced that it would transmit the games play by play on its Internet website, something unusual in a country where Internet access is very limited.

Officially, the initiative was aimed at reaching the more than 40,000 Cubans, mainly doctors, who are on missions in other countries like Venezuela, according to the report.

But it was also for the 1.5 million Cuban emigres in the United States, who may be fans of the Yankees or the Marlins but haven't forgotten their roots and still thrill to the Industriales.

By Carlos Batista

Source: Yahoo

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