Cuban baseball players in the Caribbean or piglets in space?

Time to take advantage of someone’s misfortune.

The return of the Cuban national champions to the 2014 Caribbean Series, after an absence of 54 years in those competitions, couldn’t have been more deplorable. Out of the five participating teams, the one from Villa Clara came in last, without the possibility of going on to the cross stage where, perhaps with the help of tradition, luck and the water that national teams previous used to throw on the field (thus calling on all possible deities), could have placed them even on the podium of the event or close to it. But the Cubans’ performance was so poor that the demolishing opinions rained on the players, the technical leadership and the government bodies of Cuban baseball and on the very reality of the country.

During the days of the competition, while the disaster was taking shape, I had the curiosity of noting down some comments regarding the Cubans’ performance. These opinions, in the majority of cases, were launched by commentators and specialised journalists during the broadcasting and analysis of this sport. Many of these opinion givers, by the way, had very different criteria at other times and extolled or did not comment on what almost everyone knew and that before the Caribbean Series, before the 2013 2nd World Classic, before the Panama world championship, many already knew: due to a sum of material, political, economic and personal conditions, that were interwoven with the country’s reality as a whole, Cuban baseball was suffering from serious ailments.

On this occasion, because it had been so evident and so that it is not erased from memory, a devoted my time to making a review of those specialists’ opinions, many other times full of triumphalism, today ordered to criticise, since it is not possible to do otherwise. Almost all these phrases and ideas are taken from a broader context, but none of them have been manipulated: they all respond to the spirit with which they were said or written during the bitter days of this recent disaster.

It was said by the experts, for example, that our pitchers only aim at strike outs, without being fully aware that it is not the same to throw through the centre; that they take a long time to pitch, move unnecessarily on the box and therefore lose their concentration; that they turn to the bases unnecessarily, while not concentrating on the batter and don’t take care sufficiently of the runner. But, moreover, our pitchers don’t have their role established in the rotation and in the game (starting player, relay player, closing player).

Meanwhile, the batters don’t know how to choose the pitches (poor choosing capacity) or how to get involved in the countdown; they don’t know how to touch and they lack tactical discipline.

In global terms, it was said, the Cubans have a low general qualitative level, since in Cuba there are too many teams and the athletes need to insert themselves into other leagues. They are players with evident gaps. They lack trade or suffer from “innocence” in the face of the trade. Moreover, “things happen to them that shouldn’t happen.” On occasions they do everything badly. They have poor technique, because there is a low quality in all the categories. They lack joie de vivre on the field, they suffer pressure, nervousness, they don’t enjoy the game and do not show signs of harmony, and their minds seem immobilised. They exhibit a “pitiful lack of competitiveness,” with poor performance, in pitching as well as in defence. They give the impression that the players “are disarmed” and make mental mistakes, those “not included in the statistics,” while “we make it easy for the contenders to make more runs that the ones we make.” But, despite all this, one has to think “that yes, it can be done,” “we have to dream”…despite the fact that the matter [the disaster] covers the entire national sport, deep in its worst historic nightmare.

Lastly, the managers make such evidently erratic decisions that they are “the story of a death foretold.” They suffer from lack of knowledge about how such a series (the Caribbean one) is played and are the only ones who have doubts when choosing the reinforcements. The Cuban trainers have to learn more. The director opts for opening a game with a pitcher which he relieved the previous day and who in Cuba needs seven days of rest. The team’s performance is “horrible,” so much so that “it’s hard to believe this” and its performance does not merit “more comments” and “leaves a lot to be desired.” Cuba was “the competition’s disappointment,” it led us to lose hope and filled us with scepticism.

The opponents, on the other hand, are versatile and ambidextrous. They make few mistakes. They have pitchers with an excellent control in the zone, they work on the corners, mastering their pitches, and those pitchers know how to work very exactly. And, for example, the Dominicans “play very easily against Cuba” and their runners moved freely.

Many of these clubs’ stars were not authorised by the Major League teams to participate in this tournament, which is why they weren’t able to convene the most coveted players of their respective leagues. [No other team brought six of their best possible players, as Cuba did with Yuliesky Gourriel (3B), Yordan Manduley (SS), Alfredo Despaigne (outfielder), José Manuel Fernández (2B), Yulexis La Rosa (C), and Freddy AsielÁlvarez (Cuba’s best or second best pitcher), in addition to Norge Luis Ruiz, “one of the two extra-classes of Cuban baseball”)]. On the other hand, Villa Clara took Ariel Pestano, who was almost unfit to play, and the only substitute catcher of the team.

In short, Cuban baseball needs to insert itself in other leagues, as was affirmed. Moreover, the amount of pitchers lost in recent years cannot be recovered or replaced. The rest of the Caribbean has a baseball of greater quality than the Cuban: ours, “undoubtedly,” is below par, and the series served to demonstrate our place. “There are too many problems to face a competition like this one that…according to experts, does not have a high level…,” but the greatest conflict lies in that the Cubans have voids in the technical-tactical thinking and to top it off they “lack…organic work since there doesn’t exist an efficient playing mechanism.” “A redesigning of strategies” is thus necessary. A “revolution.”

And I ask myself, after listening to those who know, will that demanded revolution take place or will we continue being lost (or losing) like piglets in space more proper of a Muppet Show than of the quality we can aspire to? (2014)

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