The national baseball team of the country of Belize is the Chicago Cubs.
This is no bandwagon country. Belize has been Cubs Country since the 1980’s when cable television was first introduced here.
The story, which is solidly embraced by everyone, is that the first channel to be re-broadcast here was WGN, home of the Cubs and I believe, the Chicago Bulls, also a local fan favorite.
For years, these were the only professional sports teams available to the country, which gained its independence from Britain in 1981 and still carries the image of the queen on its paper money. The Cubs gained a real foothold in the imagination of Belizeans. It was underdogs rooting for underdogs.
Pirating a broadcast signal in those days apparently wasn’t as easy to do as it is today.
That’s right. This is still pirate country.
One of the unshakable beliefs is that Belize has long pirated its TV channels from the US. This would explain why our PBS channel comes from Detroit while our network channels rotate periodically between Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. (Currently they are from New York and we love the ads for Broadway shows.)
Recently our televisions went dark and word quickly spread that the US was finally cracking down on our stolen signals (which included a tremendous number of premium channels in the absurdly cheap package). There is one channel that broadcasts first-run movies in varying degrees of quality, earning its name (and reputation) as the Bootleg Channel.
Even now a notice will sometimes pop up on some of the premium channels, advising viewers that they must soon pay for this channel or lose it. The thing is, when you click on the appropriate spot on the notice nothing happens. It is a secondary image. Curiously, some channels will carry a static visual of a computer desktop. Other cable channels come and go without explanation.
We take the ups and downs because frankly Belizeans pay next to nothing for an impressive — if ever-changing — array of U.S. channels.
The Cubs broadcasts, however, remain a constant.
Here’s how super Cubs fan Michael Finnegan explained it to Channel 7 TV: “It started since television; when television came to Belize, the only station we could see was Channel Nine, and Channel Nine was WGN, and WGN was the station out of Chicago weh play all the Cubs’ games. And everybody became Cubs – even me became a Cub afterwards, years afterwards I should say, because I was a Dodger fan. I was a Dodger fan because of Jackie Robinson – Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play baseball in the Major Leagues, and it happened through the Los Angeles Dodgers. So all ah we eena Belize, at that time, were Dodgers. But when television came to Belize, and the only station was WGN, and they showed all the Cubs games, everybody became Chicago Cubs fans.”
Although the Cubs lost the National League flag to San Diego in 1984, it was the Chicago team that won the hearts of Belize. A year later when Cub player Gary “Sarge” Matthews visited Belize, he was treated like royalty as crowds turned out where ever he went to meet him.
Here on the island of Ambergris Caye, Cub Central is an open-air sports bar called Carlo and Ernie’s Runway Bar. It sits less than 40 feet to the east of the island’s only airstrip. When we first arrived here nearly three years ago, it was a great entertainment to sit in Carlo & Ernie’s and watch the tiny airplanes drift sideways and nearly flip over as they battled the stiff east-west winds.
Having now been a passenger numerous times in those aerial roller coasters I have more empathy for the passengers and less thirst for the amusement.
The bar’s owners were mainland kids at the time the Cubs reigned supreme on local cable TV. That puts them in the die-hard generation that will now fly to spring training for a week or catch a few games while on vacation in the US — and ALWAYS wear authentic Cubs jerseys on game day.
Today you see jerseys and caps from many sporting teams, especially European football teams — and especially on the younger generations that have been spoiled by over-exposure to FOX Sports, ESPN and even the MLB and NBA channels. At any one time you can watch a half-dozen football games from Latin America, Britain and Europe. World Cup is as frenzied a time as any World Series.
Some of the bars now buy the satellite sports packages and broadcast as many as four games on each flatscreen TV.
Needless to say, this World Series put the whole country in a state of ecstasy.
Local Channel 5TV captured the feeling of fans in the unique Creole patois of Belize: Here’s fan Dennis Peyrefitte — “When we tek the two-nil lead, and we start to creep up, creep up, the game gone all the way to five-one, and people di text me di say, “Get out the champagne,” I seh, “not yet, ‘cause the game still eena di fourth inning.” So when dehn start to come back I seh, “We still have a chance, we still have a chance.” And the mistake – it’s not a mistake because everything is for the better, is when they changed the starting pitcher and that is when things started to go down. But me and my friend Lemus, we always believed in the Cubs, and we pull it off. But the emotion was there from the start to the end.”
And the pressure even sent Finnegan to the hospital: “Man, I da human being; I mi think ih all over fi wi. I mi think ih mi wah over me. Dat da mi – when that happen I had to lef mi house, I had to gahn to di hospital. Because all of a sudden, the pain that I trouble in my back and with my leg, I feel wah amazing pain – I know no if da mi mind or whatever, I had to gone da di hospital to get two injection, I get two injection. During the eighth inning when they tie up the game, I gahn da di hospital and had my blood pressure taken, because I feel like mi head mi bust, I believe mi blood pressure mi high. But amazingly of my age.”
Our Cubbies were in it to win it!
I’ll skip the first six games as any baseball fan knows to routine by now — bars were full (a windfall during our slow season) and home life was rearranged around the games, just like in the U.S.
Let’s go straight to the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 7 — because that is when the electric power went out for the entire island.
Nobody said Paradise was paradisaical all the time.
I could hear the roars turning to wails in Feliz Bar & Grill, the sports bar that sits within spitting distance from our home. It was black out, pitch black as far as you could see.
I rooted around in a bathroom drawer until I found my flashlight and Smart MiFi which, thankfully, was fully charged. The best I could do was pull up MLB.com and watch the pitch-by-pitch report.
I’ll be honest, it is boring to “watch” a game like that, although I kept thinking of young Ronnie Reagan “broadcasting” Cubs games over the radio in Iowa with only a ticker-tape report and sound effects from a baseball bat and glove. Yes, Ronald Reagan’s sports broadcast voice was in my head, giving me the play-by-play for the rest of Game Seven.
I’m not sure how I feel about that today. A little ironic, I guess.
I do know that with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, I drifted off to sleep. I awoke to cheers from Felize, about five minutes after the game was over. The patrons were awaiting the fate of the game in a more primitive way, by text message from a friend.
The bar was filled mostly with patrons for Darts Night, not baseball, so the information lag was understandable. They weren’t all that into it.
Downtown San Pedro was a different place.
If you had a generator — which more and more homes and businesses do since blackouts are a fairly common experience here — you could pick up the broadcast of the game on TV.
One bar didn’t have a generator but it did have a patron/Cubs fan with keys to a nearby bank. Extension cords were run across the street and into the bar where the TVs were quickly powered up, as well as the air conditioners, without hardly missing a pitch.
Another enterprising Belizean, who is stateside in college I believe, turned her iPhone toward the TV set and broadcast the end of the game home through the new Facebook Live feature. I was able to watch the entire 10th inning and post game celebration, thanks to this Facebook “broadcast,” the next morning.
At the end of the game, a large golf cart motorcade cruised around San Pedro Town, horns honking as drivers and passengers cheered wildly, waving Cubs and “W” flags. The parade even included the island’s fire engine. In the past I’ve only seen such victory parades for World Cup and Premier League — so you know the Cubs are big.
The power came back on around 3 a.m.
We don’t know the cause of the outage yet, but I suspect it had something to do with every television set on the island turned on and tuned in to the game. Two years ago, an enormous surge in power consumption on Christmas Eve shut down the island for hours, giving us a real Silent Night.
Belizeans love their Christmas lights and decorations almost as much as they love their Cubbies.