No ordinary minor league team, the [Havana] Sugar Kings were the Cincinnati Reds’ International League Class AAA affiliate based in Havana for six and a half seasons in prerevolutionary Cuba. Though the team’s existence was brief, the Sugar Kings drew a strong following in Cuba and became a springboard for Latin American players. [...]
Fulgencio Batista, defeated by Castro’s rebels, fled the country Jan. 1, 1959. Revolutionary fever reached its peak at the Gran Estadio that year at midnight on July 26 - the Castro- and Che Guevara-led movement was celebrated on the July 26 anniversary of the rebels’ first attack - during a game against the Rochester Red Wings. Revelry included fireworks and gunfire, and stray bullets grazed two members of the teams.
The Red Wings’ third-base coach, Frank Verdi, was struck, as was Cardenas, the Sugar Kings’ shortstop. Neither was seriously injured, but the game and the series were canceled.
“It was an itchy time,” said [Cookie] Rojas, who played for the Sugar Kings in 1959 and 1960 and is now a broadcaster for the Miami Marlins. “You never really knew what was going to happen.”
The season, though, continued, and that fall, the Sugar Kings had their greatest success when they claimed the International League crown. They then faced the American Association champion Minneapolis Millers, a team that included Carl Yastrzemski, in what was known as the Little World Series. The seven-game series, played in Cuba because of the cold in Minnesota, was attended by Castro and won by the Sugar Kings in seven games.