Friday, October 28, 2016

Sports: Caribbean Cubs

Less than four years after gaining independence from the United Kingdom, the Central American nation of Belize notched a smaller, yet somehow lasting, triumph in 1985. That winter, the Chicago Cubs sent their star outfielder Gary Matthews, Sr., to visit the country, which is often claimed to be the most Cubs-friendly land outside the Windy City. Matthews's visit was the culmination of a love affair that had begun in 1981, the year when Cubs games began being broadcast in the country.

And now, that the team is in the World Series, Cubs fever has come to the Caribbean in a big way. 

Why the Cubs—and why Belize? Like a lot of stories from this part of the world, it began with pirates. In this case, however, the outlaws were local TV impresarios, not swashbuckling Johnny Depp look-alikes. In the early ‘80s, there were no television stations in Belize, the only country in Central America whose official language is English. (Anyone with a set would use it to watch VHS tapes.) In 1981, however, Belize City business couple Arthur and Marie Hoare began transmitting the famous Chicago television channel WGN-TV via satellite, bringing programming to Belize. Channel 9, the Hoares' bootlegged Belize affiliate of WGN, brought Cubs and Bulls games into living rooms and bars throughout the country, sparking an interest in Chicago sports that has continued—with varying levels of enthusiasm—to this day.
"As [WGN's] signal was relayed into Belize City by the Hoares, 'world and country' were glued to their television sets to see the mighty Cubs win or lose (mostly lose)," remembered politician Michael Finnegan in a 2013 article in the Belizean paper Amandala.

 The country's tiny size may have kept American television executives at bay. In a 1989 Washington Post dispatch from Wrigley - South, reporter William Branigin explained that "U.S. broadcasters consider the Belize market so small that trying to stop the operations would not be worth the trouble."

 Most of the fans watching the Cubs in Belize today are Gen-Xers who grew up watching the team, says Jerry Martinez, a 36-year-old banker from Santa Elena, a city in the western part of the country. If the Cubs can lock up the World Series, Martinez thinks the romance may be rekindled. There are still diehard fans in the country, he says, but "people here usually ride with winners," especially younger Belizeans. 

However the season turns out, Martinez is determined to make his son a Cubs fan. "I grew up a Cubs fan and will die a Cubs fan," he says. "We're the lovable losers that introduced Belize to baseball."

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