BELIZE CITY, BELIZE -- There is joy at last in Mudville. This small Central American country's long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans at last are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the optimism is palpable. "This may be our year," said Charles Woods, a teacher at a Jesuit junior college, as he held down a stool at a bar called the Louisville Democratic Club last week and watched the Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates on television. "I'm sure at least we'll win the division." Through a quirk of geography and satellite technology, Belize has more Cubs fans per capita than any place outside greater Chicago, residents say. Cubs bumper stickers abound and TV sets in this city's ramshackle clapboard houses and saloons are regularly tuned to their games. It started in 1981 when local businessman Arthur Hoare introduced television to Belize (population 180,000), the only English-speaking country in Central America. Many Belizeans already had television sets by then, but used them to watch rented videotapes. The enterprising Hoare capitalized on the ready market by launching "Channel 9," which captured Chicago's WGN station on a satellite dish and relayed it to local viewers. As a result, Belizeans were exposed to Harry Caray's broadcasts of Cubs games, began rooting for the "home team" and became devoted fans of the Cubbies. Why WGN was chosen in the first place is not clear, but residents here point out that Belize shares the same time zone with the Windy City, and there is a sizable Belizean community in Chicago. Since the debut, a rival, Channel 7, and a number of cable TV companies have opened. The two stations generate revenue from local advertising, while the cable firms sell subscriptions. All broadcast U.S. network programs, movies and sports events available on American satellites. "It's all being pirated," a diplomat said, adding that U.S. broadcasters consider the Belize market so small that trying to stop the operations would not be worth the trouble. Belizeans take the view that, as one resident put it, "Out of the sky we get sunshine, we get rain and we get TV signals. Whatever drops out of the sky is an act of God." The irony is that while Belizeans have become great aficionados of Cubs baseball, they do not actually play the sport much. "We spend hours in front of the tube just watching those Cubs," said Amalia Mai, the editor of the weekly Belize Times. In 1985, baseball in Belize received a brief boost when Gary Matthews, then the Cubs star left fielder, was invited here by the country's sports minister and brought with him some equipment to start a Belizean little league. But the endeavor soon succumbed to the torpor that often seems to envelope this low-lying Caribbean state. "It just sort of petered out," said Woods, a former Jesuit priest who teaches "English for Critical Thinking" when he is not nursing a locally brewed Belikin beer and watching the Cubs in the Louisville Democratic Club. The bar is so named, it seems, because its owner hails from Louisville -- Belize, not Kentucky -- but his reason for appending "Democratic Club" remains something of a mystery. "Maybe he's a Democrat," said the bartender, before turning his attention back to the game. The television sits on a shelf above one end of the bar. Below it, for want of enough space between the set and the low ceiling, an antenna is stuck into a wine bottle. The Cubs have not appeared in a World Series since 1945 and have not won one since 1908. But on this day they were comfortably atop the National League East and aiming for their sixth consecutive victory in a day contest at Wrigley Field against the Pirates. However, they seemed to be struggling as the contest entered the sixth inning with the score tied at 1. Then, to the delight of Chicago and Belize, the Cubs exploded for five runs, including a grand slam, en route to a 7-2 triumph. Ho-lee cow!
William Branigin William Branigin writes and edits breaking news. He previously was a reporter on The Post’s national and local staffs and spent 19 years overseas, reporting in Southeast Asia, Central America, the Middle East and Europe.