Cuban television’s behaviour regarding the broadcasting of the games of that professional circuit that is the Major League Baseball (MLB), the one with the highest level in the world for that sport, can be interpreted as an out of tune parody of that slogan of the Cuban Sugar Kings to get a franchise in the MLB, “one more step and we’re there.”
When a road to a rapprochement with the MLB was being outlined, after the game in Havana between the Cuba team and the Tamp Bay Rays, which was attended by the Cuban and U.S. presidents; after the visit to the capital of leaders of the organisation together with several players, including baseball players from the Cuban diaspora, and when numerous games of the regular season were being broadcast pre-recorded, surprisingly, with no explanation, in full post season, the Major Leagues disappeared from the screen and everything went back as it used to be.
Up to the fateful moment of the involution, baseball fans on the island were pleased because the next to last World Series (2015), though with a delay of several days, as is usual, was seen in its totality, and in the last season, on occasions, it got to broadcast even three games a week, in addition to the best games.
It was a slow and anguishing advance. At the beginning, the Cuban baseball players were erased from the teams of the best games and the games where they did not participate were chosen but, little by little, those practices started being left behind and everything seemed to be going well. Until the day of the broadcasting of game between the Toronto Blues and the Baltimore Orioles, in addition to a summary of the New York Mets versus the San Francisco Giants game.
It was the start of the post season and Cuban fans thought they could see it, like the previous one, but that night the dream ended and they missed a World Series of historic relevance with a noted Cuban protagonist. Everything went back to how it was before.
The following in Cuba of the MLB World Series dates back to 1953, seen through the CMQ. The games between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers got to Cuban screens with a bit of a delay since they were recorded over there and the kinescopes were transported by plane to Havana. But the following year, the World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians was seen on the island at the same time as in the United States due to a technological feat for the time.
More than 60 years later, in the era of digital television, the battle waged by the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians was absent from Cuban television.
Few times, like in 2016, had a World Series accumulated so much expectation; so many stories, legends, myths, cabals, statistics, speculations had started circulating. The Cubs had not won the October Classic since 1908, and the Indians since 1948. They were two teams extremely thirsty for victory. There was a feeling that it would be an intense and disputed series in each game. However, up to game 4 it was not exactly like that. The 27th out of that game took place in Chicago’s stadium; it seemed that the curse of the goat would again squash the city. And emotionally it was resulting in a series to be forgotten.
THEN CHAPMAN ARRIVED
Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman arrived in Chicago in July to prop up the regular MLB season’s team that had won the most and was pointed out as the favourite to win it all from the start of the campaign. The giant from Holguín had an aura that had grown in Cincinnati and that accompanied him to New York and quite a lot had been written about the impact of his presence in the box, but not even he imagined what would happen to him with the Cubs in the World Series.
During the series’ first games Chapman never entered to pitch in a rescue situation; until the fifth game, when the story started to change dramatically.
A FOX commentator said at the start of the game’s broadcasting that Chicago had no option, and with the series 1-3 against it there was nothing left but to go out and play its best nine innings. And that’s what the Cubs did. When its opening pitcher, John Lester, abandoned the game, after six innings, the team was winning 3-2. Carl Edward entered to dominate the seventh but he allowed a double, and after an out, Chapman was called up. On his cap he wore the tribute to José Fernández. And he would be worthy of it.
Thus the Holguín pitcher’s task was immense: he scored the last eight outs and kept the advantage of one home run. In a brilliant chronicle about the performance of the Cuban that night, the commentator from ESPN Sam Miller said that Chapman seemed to be in good humour after the game and he had reasons to feel happy; in addition to the victory he performed in the most dramatic moments of this series, he did something that Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodríguez had never done. Not only did he save the Cubs but he also saved the series.
In the 112-year history of the World Series only 28 rescues of at least eight outs have been carried out, like the one by Chapman. Never before, since his arrival to the Major Leagues, had he pitched that amount of innings.
But there was still a lot missing to be written about this history. Two days later, in the sixth game, something unprecedented took place in Cleveland: with an advantage of five home runs, the Chicago manager brought Chapman in again in the seventh, with two outs. He polished off that inning, the following and came out to pitch in the ninth when the advantage increased to seven home runs. After passing a home run he was replaced.
Between the fifth and sixth games, Aroldis Chapman had pitched 62 times, but the game that would decide everything was still missing. For this one he would also be called. He entered in the eighth inning with two outs and a player in first base. The Cubs won 6-3. That advantage disappeared because a double by Brandon Guyer and a home run by Rajai Davis equalled the scoreboard.
In Cleveland he was the craze, Chicago fell silent, but Chapman had to continue there, like the stoics. After achieving the third out, when the camera focused on him on the bench, alone, his expression was painful. Despite everything, he came out to pitch in the ninth and withdrew it. His work in the series had ended. One more entrance, in the tenth, and the Cubs won, giving credit to Chapman. His team won the World Series and I believe that he should have been named its Most Valuable Player. So much was not demanded of Mariano Rivera, not even in his years of glory. He pitched with his life this ninth inning of the seventh game. It was as meritorious as the saving of the fifth game.
Aroldis Chapman inscribed his name in the history of the World Series and became the second Cuban pitcher to play against the Cleveland Indians in its last two attempts to win the October Classic. The previous one was Liván Hernández in 1997. I followed that series on the radio; this one, thanks to the package. Almost 20 years later, in the era of digital television, I continue without being able to see, directly, the World Series. (2016)
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