What about the future of Cuban baseball?

The complex panorama of the national sport.

One doesn’t have to be Nostradamus to know that the Cuban National Baseball Series will pass with more sorrows than glories and that its being followed by fans will have a low profile, all this as a result of the current panorama of this sport on the island, the desertions, the policies with the ballplayers, their impact abroad and the composition of the sports programming.

What most attracts our attention is the names of the players of all the teams that will take part in the 54th Series, the absence of key players, the evident fissures in the teams and the changes of athletes between provinces, where Matanzas is again the favourite.

As occurred in the 1990s, when the mass retirement of star ballplayers severely affected several provinces (the former Havana lost all its offensive power) and, by extension, Cuban baseball, the current situation – in another condition – will favour a reconfiguration in the teams’ positions, with a greater decrease in the general quality, a process that has been taking place for years but which now will have greater relevance.

The not very flattering local scene contrasts with the boom of the Cuba baseball players in the U.S. Major Leagues (MLB), an explosion that began during the previous season but which in this one has skyrocketed, triggering the hunger for the island’s talent and which has not stopped taking up the headlines and establishing new records.

While the Puig mania (referring to Yasiel Puig, a ball player who after several foiled attempts was able to immigrate to the United States in 2012) unleashed in Los Angeles during the last campaign was what was highlighted by the media, it was accompanied by other relevant events, like the first homerun derby won by Yoenis Céspedes and the place of four Cubans (José Iglesias, Yunel Escobar, Adeinis Echavarría and Alexei Ramírez) in a key position, the short field, during the same season, which had never before happened in MLB. Note that the four constantly appeared in the reviews of the best plays and that Yunel was stripped of the golden glove in the U.S. League.

In the Big Show’s current campaign the Cuban baseball players are writing every day new pages: the presence of five of them in the Game of Stars; the second homerun derby achieved by Yoenis Céspedes, who should reach the 100 homeruns for the first time; the incredible numbers of Pito Abreu, a sure winner of the Rookie of the Year in the U.S. League; the impressive return of Chapman after the ball that took him out of the competition; the spectacular debut of Jorge Soler; the game without hits of Odrisamer Despaigne up to the eighth inning; the 10 games won (until now) by Roenis Elías; the consolidation as a star of Adeinis Echavarría; the selection of Puig to make up the MLB team that will play in Japan; the 75.5 million contract of Rusney Castillo – which will be surpassed by that of Yasmani Tomás -, among the most relevant.

Twenty-two Cuban ballplayers have participated this season in the MLB, eight pitchers and 14 position players – 11 of them as title holders – and new names will join the list in the next one when they have matured in other teams; in fact, several are almost ready for the leap.

However, in a “communication strategy” that goes beyond any limit of the absurd, the official Cuban media have kept quiet about that event, even hidden on the “international baseball” television programme, where the games in which our baseball players participate are avoided and the Cubans’ plays are taken out in the reviews.

That turning their backs on reality is very understandable at this point, when the information and inventive technology – of which there is no lack on the island – jump any communication barrier. This is why thousands of Cubans see with a slight delay several MLB games a week, thanks to the “Package.”1

After the last out of the World Series takes place in October, a part of those baseball fans who follow the MLB will try to see some of the games of the National Series. But the contrast is brutal and there are other challenges, other noises in the system.

For some time now, baseball has been facing on Cuban television, in frank disadvantage, the football competition, currently increased with several live games – no less than five – of the Spanish and German leagues and some from the League of Champions. Its counterpart, “international baseball”: old games – very few – of the Mexican, Korean, Japanese leagues or of the Major leagues, as long as Cubans don’t play. It seems as if the sports programming were made by Argentineans, Brazilians or Spaniards. The result: increasingly less Cuban children play baseball.

The complex and confused panorama of Cuban baseball is a universe that goes beyond the local league. Right now there are Cuban ballplayers who play in the Caribbean, Mexican, U.S., Japanese and Italian leagues, the majority ignored by the official media, but parodying Galileo and Descartes: they move, then they exist. And if one wants to compete with dignity in the next international tourneys one will have to take them into account. And in 10 years? And the renovation? And the future? (2014)

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