The game is alive and well

In Cuba, the Hot Corner isn't so much a location as it is an institution. It can be any group of men yelling about baseball, blowing off steam in the absence of all-sports radio. One contentious crew convenes daily in Parque Central, down the street from the Capitolio, a near duplicate of the U.S. Capitol built to celebrate the cozy relationship between Washington and Havana 76 years ago.

Today's topic, lucky for us, is the World Baseball Classic. It's 11:30 on a bright December morning when we walk up, and the aficionados already are dabbing their brows. They're overheated at the prospect of Equipo Cuba, the storied national team, gold medalists at three of the past four Olympics and 11-0 at the world amateur championships last September, finally getting the chance to compete against the world's best pros.

For the moment, a tall, beer-gutted guy in a green polo shirt has the stage. The Dominicans? Are you crazy?! With our pitching, we won't even beat the Puerto Ricans! He scrunches up his nose at a
pie-faced fellow as a buzz runs through the group of two dozen or so. Pie-face spits as he shouts: The Puerto Ricans can't even win a game at the Caribbean Series! You're worried about them? Ridiculous!