ATTENDING a professional baseballgame in Costa Rica is an exercise only forthose who take the sport seriously.Fans who are used to the entertainmentthat accompanies a Major League Baseballgame in the United States may find one thatcenters only on baseball a bit dull.Absent are the garish scoreboards thatflash statistics, replays, advertisements andbetween-inning games of chance. Also missingare the ceremonial first pitches bycelebrities, T-shirts shot by cannons into thecrowd, seventh-inning stretch exercises andeven the waves that make their way arounda pro-player stadium when the action gets abit boring.Those Costa Ricans who go to games arethere for the love of the sport or the loyaltyto their favorite teams or players.Not that baseball is a universal passionor the national pastime here.In this country where tens of thousandsturn out for intensely competitive fútbol(soccer) matches and where hundreds ofthousands take to the streets in endlessparades and horn-honking marathons whentheir national soccer team qualifies forworld-class competition, 150 fans at a recentsemi-final baseball playoff game seemedpretty weak.BUT those fans made up for their smallnumbers by shouting and whistling enthusiasticallyfor their team and hissing and prayingwhen things didn’t go well.“Aiii, Señor, (Oh Lord),” cried onewoman as a ball sped by her team’s firstbaseman into right field for a base hit duringthe third inning. Her team, Santo Domingofrom the suburb of Heredia north of SanJosé, experienced a poor start that saw thecompeting Jazz Casinos of San José jump toa 4-0 lead early in the game.Partisanship was evident in the crowd atSan José’s Estadio de Béisbol AntonioEscarré where a late afternoon rainy seasondownpour had settled the dust and left someof the seats damp or dirty. It was quicklyevident that while the Jazz Casinos were thehome team, the hearts of the majority of thecrowd were with the Santo Domingo players.“The Jazz are a semi-professional team,mostly made up of Nicaraguans, Cubans anda few Costa Ricans,” explained one aficionado.“But, the Santo Domingo team consistsof all Costa Ricans, so we support our ownteam,” she said, putting her hand over herheart.Support for the local boys was enhancedby the knowledge that they were not professionalplayers, like the Jazz team whoreceive some remuneration and, thus, areconsidered at least semiprofessional.“Our players have towork at other jobs and playonly in their free time,”explained another fan.BASEBALL is the No.1 sport in both Nicaraguaand Cuba, so many CostaRicans believe playersfrom those nations have anedge over their own menwho play in a countrywhere soccer dominatesthe sports pages and everyday conversation.As for the Santo Domingo team, severalfans pointed out that they won the nationalchampionship in 2002. Their obvious wishwas that they would repeat that feat thisyear.With concentration on the action on thefield, there were few distractions thatevening to divert attention away from eachpitch.No vendors plied the crowd with beer orcotton candy or inflatable animal characters.No overhead blimps drew eyes away fromthe action on the field. No flashingannouncements or extraneous activitiesabsorbed the interest of fans.Those who felt a need to eat hurriedlyleft the stadium between innings to dashacross the street to the Soda Béisbol restaurantwhere the owner/chef business wasbooming – selling hamburgers, hot dogs andcheese or meat-filled empanadas for about35 cents and soft-drinks for 50 cents.No one lingered, since the between inningsbreaks were short and action wouldresume quickly.TYPICAL Latin American courtesyreigns at these events. In a culture whereanyone entering a room must make therounds and shake everyone’s hand even ifthey are late, each player on his first time atbat stopped to shake hands with the catcherand umpire.Even disputes between players andumps showed no animosity punctuated byflailing arms and face-to-face heatedexchanges. Contestants simply made theirpoints in a conversational manner and quietlyretreated to the bench or their playingposition when the decision was affirmed.If there was any showmanship amongthe game’s personnel, it was by the homeplate umpire. On especiallyclose or importantplays, his calls were punctuatedby dramatic gesturesindicating whetherthe player was safe or out.Perhaps he had beenwatching his fellow umpsin Major League Baseballgames from the UnitedStates that are on cabletelevision here once ortwice a week or the gamesfrom the MexicanBaseball League that fill alot of air time on the weekends.GAMES move slowly here – the firstfour innings of the recent playoff game tooktwo hours. Eventually, the Jazz Casinos prevailedover the Santo Domingo team, 6-4.That was their third win in the best of sevenseries, dimming the hopes of the faithful thatthe local boys might repeat their victory thisyear.It wasn’t an evening for those whoseminds wander from the sport or who must beentertained by scoreboard or on-the-fieldentertainment. It was, simply, a grand nightfor pure baseball.The Jazz Casinos and UniversidadInternacional de los Americas teams arescheduled to play in Parque AntonioEscarre, Barrio Varga San Cayetano in SanJosé on the following dates and times: July24 at 6 p.m., July 25 at 10 a.m., July 31 at6 p.m., Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. and Aug. 8 at 10a.m.For more info, call Franklin Solís withICODER, the organization that promotessports in the country at 284-8716 or 223-8730. E-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.