Granada is serious about its churches.
When Nicaragua’s tourist boom started to crank up around ten years ago, it was Granada that got the most attention. Here was an old colonial city, filled with colorful architecture, a friend to the arts, fed by cool breezes from Lake Nicaragua. Hostels started cropping up, retirees started to file down from the United States, and the place became a must-stop on the Gringo Trail through Central America. The tourism boom, like anywhere else, has its costs and benefits, and there are already fears that Granada will turn into another gringo playground where retirees and visitors have little interaction with the local population other than hiring them for work.
As we’ve made our way along on this trip, I’ve heard a variety of opinions on Granada, most of them favorable, a few saying that it isn’t “Real Nicaragua.” Whether or not anyone who isn’t from here is qualified to decide what’s real about the country or not I’ll leave to someone else to decide. You can see the intersection of cultures very clearly here, and there are a couple streets that seem to exist in a world far away from the neighborhoods that surround them. But for the most part, either side of the coin is easy to find. I’ve lived in towns that depended on tourism, and like most of them, Granada makes it easy to find both the centers for its tourism economy and the neighborhood streets that most visitors never see.
Market day in Granada.
But right now, in Granada, it’s all about baseball. Nicaragua is serious baseball country, and when the national league has their championship series, you can count on hearing about it. But what’s most interesting for me is that this baseball series figured into the first article I recall reading about Nicaragua.
When I was in high school, I read a ton of mystery novels. They gave me the same thrill as the film noirs I’ve been watching since my mother began feeding me old movies whenever I got sick and had to stay home from school. I always loved the pace of the stories, the hard-boiled confidence of the lead characters, and, most of all, the snappy dialogue. I was particularly taken with the mystery writers of Florida, like John D. Macdonald, Carl Hiassan, and a guy from Fort Myers named Randy Wayne White. I still remember the jolt of recognition I had when his characters mentioned places I knew in the stories, places like Cabbage Key, and my hometown of Sarasota. The idea that someone could make a living writing about the place I grew up in was a big eye-opener for me, and I still credit White’s books as one of the forces that made me want to pursue writing as a career.
Some time after discovering his Doc Ford mysteries, I discovered that White was also a journalist, frequently contributing to Outside Magazine. I can’t remember whether it was in one of his articles or one of his novels that I read about the Nicaraguan Championship Series. Knowing how he feeds his own experiences into his books, it could have been both. But one image stuck with me. In Nicaragua, he wrote, it was possible to walk down the street when the big series was on and never miss a pitch, since every radio in town would be tuned to the game.
For the past two days, that is exactly the experience I’ve had. There is not a single television in Granada, or at least not one visible to the public eye, that is tuned to anything other than these games when they are on. You can hear people cheering when Oriental (the Granada team) scores, and groaning when the Tigres (the Chinandega team) scores. The sound of the game carries down every street here, particularly the high pitched horns that wail throughout the stadium from the first pitch to the last.
It’s a thrill to be here for this, and to make the connection between that image I picked up from Randy Wayne White all those years ago and find it coming true in my own experience a decade later. And the series is turning out to be a hell of a ride. Chinandega won the first three games, meaning they needed only one to close things out. Last night’s game stayed tied at one through nine innings, and Oriental blew chance after chance before finally rallying to put the game away in extra innings and keep the series going for another day. You could hear people cheering from end to end of the city.
I have it on good authority that the Mombacho volcano is a big fan of Oriental.
Tonight, however, it looked like the series was coming to an end. Chinandega built an 8-3 lead with some early home runs, and went into the ninth inning looking invincible. The Chinandega crowd roared as Oriental came to bat, waiting for the third out so they could celebrate their series win.
Then Oriental got a run. Then another run. Then they loaded the bases. Down by three, with the bases loaded and two outs, and with two cities holding their breath, a utility infielder named Danilo Sotelo uncorked a grand slam to give Oriental the lead. If you didn’t know the series was going on, you would have known when Sotelo knocked that one out of the park, because fireworks started going off all across the city. Twenty minutes later, when Granada got the last Chinandega player to pop out to end the game, the fireworks started up again. Granada had pulled off an impossible comeback, scoring six runs in the ninth inning, including a grand slam with two outs in the ninth, to keep the series going for another day. Tomorrow, the entire country will be talking about this. People who have never seen each other before will be smiling at each other and shaking hands and talking about Sotelo’s home run.
This is why people love sports.
We’re leaving Granada tomorrow and heading up to the city of Esteli, a cowboy town in the north famed for its cigars and leather goods. Baseball gets a rest tomorrow, and the series resumes on Tuesday. We’ll see if the sounds of the game are as pervasive in the north as they are here, but its hard to beat being in a town on the night their team wins a big game. I was in New Orleans when the Saints won the Super Bowl. On Tuesday or Wednesday, in either Chinandega or Granada, it’s going to be a hell of a night in town.
More news from the north. Here’s a picture of another church:
The cathedral in the parque central.