Today,the Mayan population numbers have reached into the millions,with the greatest concentration living in the Yucatán Peninsula near Mexico’s Caribbean coast and the Riviera Maya. Here,they still maintain a culture that is racially and linguistically distinct from non-indigenous Mexicans and some even identify as Yucatecos first and Mexicans second.
The Mayan love of baseball has evolved to become a source of immense pride throughout their culture and today is even considered to be an essential part of being Maya,along with their famous traditional grilled pork,known as poc-chuc and traditional dance,known as jarana yucateca. As a result,a growing number of Mayan baseball teams can be found in the area and team loyalties run deep,with each serving proudly as ambassadors of their small towns as they compete with other teams.
Baseball first made its way to the Yucatán via Cuba,which lies only 128 miles to the east between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Cuba and the Yucatán capital city of Mérida – which is also a popular ex-pat haven – have long enjoyed a strong cultural and political exchange,leading to baseball’s rise in popularity among the Maya.
Many Maya community gatherings tend to revolve around the baseball fields,with locals of all ages attending games every Sunday with friends and family. Teams range in size,and while some are quite large with stadiums that can seat up to 13,600 fans,most are smaller affairs. Still,locals are passionate about their teams and players,following the games with as much enthusiasm as any American football fan.
One difference between bax’abola and the U.S. game of baseball is that the Yucatán version tends to be quite rough,intensely physical and – at times – even verbally aggressive. For example,runners are sometimes knocked down while trying to touch home,and barreling into the baseman to break up a double play is a typical move on the Mayan baseball field.
The sport also provides a fun way for Mexicans,visitors and ex-pats alike to connect and interact with the indigenous Mayans,who are proud when others take an interest in what has definitely become one of their favorite modern pastimes.
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