Nosara, Sports

A new Nicaraguan baseball league thrives in Nosara, the surf and yoga paradise

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The first sunlight is filtering through the roof of the house where Josué Estrada lives. It’s Sunday, April 16, and today he has a baseball game, a sport he has been playing in his birthplace, Jinotepe, since he was a teenager.

In what ought to be a living room, there is only a bare mattress accumulating dust from the dirt road outside. During the day, it serves as a trampoline for his one-year-old son José Luis, and at night it serves as a bed for one of the Nicaraguan workers who share the house with Josué and his family. Depending on the season, there are between seven and ten of them. Some of them even sleep on the floor.

Josué is 24 years old. He left school at 13 and started to work because he was embarrassed to ask for money to buy shoes or notebooks. With a portion of his first salary, he bought his baseball equipment.

Perhaps that is the reason why his Nosara team uniform is spread out so neatly on the mattress. His shirt and pants are clean and pressed. He reaches up to a wooden board attached to the ceiling and grabs a baseball mitt given to him by his boss. He strikes it proudly to demonstrate its quality and stores it in his backpack.

On game days Josué Estrada showers without soap, fearing that a drop of sweat mixed with soap might blur his vision and make him strike out.Photo: César Arroyo Castro

On one of the walls, next to his work machete, hangs a Boston Red Sox cap. This cap helped him meet other people here in Nosara who grew up playing the most popular sport in Nicaragua.

He says he started playing in Nosara about a year ago. “I was walking down the street wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. I passed in front of a hotel that was under construction and from above someone yelled at me, ‘Hey, do you want to go play baseball?’ We Nicaraguans recognize each other. You see someone walking by with one of these caps and right away you notice the baseball player style.”

He and his fellow Nicaraguans are part of the Nosara Amateur Baseball League, formed in 2022 comprising five teams. They play in pastures that they singlehandedly convert into fields using only scythes and shovels.

Today his team, the Norteños, will face Los Astros in the town of Sámara. Looking impeccable in his uniform, Josué gets on his motorcycle followed by his wife Arlin Ruth Castro. She holds on tightly with one hand, while she grips José Luis, their son, with the other.

En route to the mansion

The idyllic beaches are a dream location for U.S. and European migrants who build their vacation homes near the ocean. Nicaraguans are drawn to the construction boom.

Josué migrated from Nicaragua in 2018, the same year that more than 50,000 Nicaraguans arrived in Costa Rica fleeing the socio-political crisis provoked by the Ortega-Murillo government.

“I had lost my job and I remembered that a friend would always tell me that there were jobs to be found here in Nosara, but I didn’t listen to him because I didn’t want to leave my hometown. But when I was fired in 2018, I had to come. It was not easy, I crossed on foot,” he recalls.

Josué knew he had to get to a place called Nosara, but he didn’t know how. He was told it would take a day. He took several buses at random: he went through Liberia and Santa Cruz, slept in an abandoned building in Tamarindo, back to Liberia, through Nicoya… until he arrived in Nosara. The trip took two days, with nothing but a bottle of water.

For the first seven months he worked in a sawmill. Then he returned to Nicaragua but realized he wouldn’t get a job, so he decided to go back to work in construction.

One day, Josue went for a walk with Arlin Ruth, his wife, through the town center. He looked up and saw several luxurious houses on the mountain.

Arlin Ruth Castro and José Luis, Josué’s wife and son, always accompany him to every game he plays with the Norteños.Photo: César Arroyo Castro

“From the center of Nosara you can see some big houses. I showed them to my wife and told her that I wished God would give me the opportunity to see what those houses look like from the inside. I longed for it and my dream came true a short while later.”

Looking for jobs with more favorable work conditions, he met the owner of one of those houses and now he works there as a gardener. Every day he walks through the gardens and maintains them. He says he was lucky: he works approximately 10 hours a day and is able to earn up to $1,000, twice what he used to earn as a builder.

Caravan for a united Nosara

In Sámara, the game is going to be held in a cattle pasture. The animals are safely put away and the field is ready: lines marked and bases laid. There are still a few rocks and stones left, but the players don’t pay much attention to them.

Josué is one of the first to arrive at the field. He pulls out his glove and starts throwing the ball to warm up with his Norteños teammates.

Soon motorcycles and a pickup truck transporting a grill, coolers, a loudspeaker and most of the players of Los Astros de Nosara start to arrive.

The entire display gives you the impression that you are witnessing a league that was established many years ago. However, its beginnings were just two years ago, when a group of fifteen players started getting together to play baseball. One of them was Josué.

The first games were held on the Santa Marta soccer field. Between them, they collected ¢30,000 a week to rent the field for two hours. At first they played with softballs and other balls made of socks for lack of baseballs. That’s how they learned when they were children and didn’t have much resources: old socks tied together to form the ball and rubber boots that they turned into gloves.

“Before playing in Santa Marta, I sometimes went to the beach with some of my friends to play a little. We would take tennis balls that we found lying on the street, maybe balls thrown by the children who lived near the houses we passed by. We would keep playing until the balls burst.”

Beef skewers, pork chops and chicken strips are the main items on the menu offered by the ‘godmother’ of Los Astros de Nosara, Margarita Obando.Photo: César Arroyo Castro

Josué recalls that the rumor that a group of Nicaraguans were getting together to play baseball spread among the migrant workers in Nosara and the number of players tripled. Thanks to donations from US citizens and some employers as well as money raised by the players themselves, they were able to buy the necessary equipment to play.

The attendance at the Sunday games was such that in a few months they were able to form the Amateur League and split into five teams: Los Astros de Nosara, the Norteños, Sin fronteras, Tigres de Delicias and Constructora Garza.

The league officially started on August 28, 2022, with a caravan of players that went from the Nosara supermarket to the Arenales soccer field dressed in their uniforms and carrying the Costa Rican, Nicaraguan and Guanacaste flags. Police and firefighters from Nosara helped clear the way for the players through the dirt roads. When they arrived at the Arenales soccer field, they sang the anthem of both nations and played a friendly game.

Jorge Oporta marched that day as the captain of the Norteños and one of the tournament directors. He too migrated to Costa Rica looking for work.

In the five years he has lived in Nosara, he says he has witnessed discrimination and heard xenophobic remarks by both Costa Ricans and tourists. That’s why they included both flags in the caravan, to send a message of unity between nationalities and invite people from other countries to join the league.

“We know that the Nicaraguan population is blamed a lot for all that’s bad in Nosara. If people knew the conditions under which many of us migrated they would understand where we are coming from. Many of our players didn’t even finish primary school, and they come with a lot of problems,” says Jorge.

A spreading culture

It’s Josué’s turn to bat. There is a the Norteños player on third base; if he hits the ball, the team can score a run and take the lead.

He grabs the bat, remembers his best plays in the peasant league of Jinotepe, positions himself over the batting zone, and stares at the pitcher’s dance: he brings his knees together, swings his arm back, lifts his leg, and releases the ball.

Josue swings at the ball, hits it and it flies far away, ‘pica y se extiende’ as Nicaraguans would say. No outfielder can stop it. Josue makes it to second base and his teammate on third has time to score.

“”I dream that God will give me the opportunity to go to other places and represent Nosara,” says Josué Estrada.

“Pica y se extiende” is an expression that comes from baseball describing a successful hit that sends the ball across the field without anyone catching it.

It is also used to refer to any event that inevitably spreads through a place: it can be the contagion of laughter, a wave of protests, or the culture of a community like Nosara’s, which is built with the identities of the groups that inhabit it.

When you walk away from Nosara’s tourist sites, you notice that Nicaraguan culture now also has a place in the community.

At the beaches of Guiones and Pelada, where surfing, yoga and fusion food predominate, Nicaraguans can be seen coming in and out of the construction sites. Some travel several kilometers on foot to get to their jobs, others move around on motorcycles, and some crowd together in the back of trucks.

The landscape changes in downtown Nosara. There is a Nicaraguan restaurant, the Nicaraguan accent is more pronounced and the shacks of both locals and migrants line the streets, far from the luxurious homes nestled between the mountains and the shoreline.

The culture that is lived on the beaches and the one that sprouts in the peripheries are part of the cultural diversity of Nosara, but there is an imaginary line that divides the migrants according to the role they come to play in the community.

In Nosara there is a vision of a paradise-like place that is only for people with high purchasing power. It’s where you can go and feed your soul and spirit. That is not wrong, but it leaves out other people who cannot afford those places. That other part of the population is the one that goes far away from the beach to carry out their own activities. That’s where the Nicas are playing baseball,” believes sociologist Guillermo Acuña from the National University.

It is precisely on the outskirts of the coastal area where the game between the Norteños and Los Astros de Nosara is being played.

A cow interrupted the game between the Norteños and Los Astros de Nosara. The players took the opportunity to do some bullfighting.Photo: César Arroyo Castro

When there is a league game, the field becomes a small piece of Nicaraguan soil that makes the players feel at home. Every game turns into a party with music and street vendors selling typical Nicaraguan dishes. There is pork with yucca, ‘vigorón’, ‘arroz con pollo’ and roasted chicken with ‘tajada’. They also sell shaved ice, packets of ‘ranchitas’, beers and cigars.

Spirits are high among Josue’s family and friends after the play he made.

“Come on Norteños, if you win there are free beers for everyone!,” shouts Ana Ortiz over the blaring tunes of Los Tigres del Norte and the buzz of the crowd.

Ana is the godmother of the Norteños. She’s “always there,” supporting and cheering the players on during the games, which can last up to five hours. She is like the team’s best friend who proudly wears the uniform. She’s quiet off the court, but when the game starts she’s always celebrating.

Ana Ortiz, the godmother of the Norteños, arrived at the game prepared with a cooler full of drinks and food to share.Photo: César Arroyo Castro

Ana arrived from the Dominican Republic 16 years ago. As a child she played softball, a sport very similar to baseball that is also common in the countries where the sport is played. She says that age no longer allows her to move around much, but watching the games keeps her close to her favorite sport.

“Back in my country I owned a lot of medals and trophies. It’s wonderful what’s happening here. Baseball is like reliving what you did back home. It’s great!”

It doesn’t matter if they like it or if they understand the game’s rules; baseball is the perfect excuse for a group of fans to gather around the field and spend the day in the company of their countrymen.

According to Guillermo, the place where a community seeks to create a familiar space related to its history and memory is where culture is born.

A worker’s league

Josué is the catcher now. In front of him, on a mound of dirt and stone, his teammate Leopoldo Reyes twirls the ball between his fingers prior to pitching. The day before he cut his finger at work. A poorly executed pitch could reopen the wound, but he doesn’t want to stop playing.

“It’s going to bleed for sure. Yesterday we cut a pipe with a sander and when we went to load it on a truck it slipped and cut my whole finger open,” Leopoldo had told another player of the Norteños before the game.

Josué looks at him, tells him to throw a fastball, and Leopoldo, without giving it a second thought, pulls it off. What a natural! Neither he nor any of the players pay attention to the cut on his finger.

The midday sun burns, and these players have had to work under its rays all week, from sunrise to sunset. There are days when they come in at six in the morning and finish their day at eight in the evening. Leopoldo works up to fourteen hours and receives a salary of about $500 a month.

To put that number in perspective, that same $500 is what Josué and his co-workers pay for a two-bedroom house with exposed electrical wiring in Hollywood.

Sunday is the weekly day off for most players in the Amateur Baseball League. The rest of their days are spent building Nosara, a multicultural community made up of Nosareños, expat migrants, and migrant workers, where baseball games in cattle fields and yoga retreats in the middle of small nature exist side by side, but not mixed together.