Cuban baseball at a crossroad

To change or to continue dying.

Foto: Tomada del periódico Vanguardia.

The Ciego de Avila and Isla de la Juventud teams vied with passion and honour for the last chapter of the 54th Cuban National Baseball Series to close with that good final image the curtains of a low-level championship that pointed at the top of its voice to urgent changes for the next seasons.

This was a different, strange series that got to the playoffs with the total absence of the four provinces that have been the biggest winners: Pinar del Río, Havana, Villa Clara and Santiago de Cuba; but also with other peculiarities in terms of fans and identities.


Already at the stage of the semifinals between Matanzas and Isla de la Juventud something unusual until then happened: the great majority of the Cuban baseball fans were rooting for the Isla de la Juventud team; in other words: against Matanzas. Never before had a team – not even Industriales – created such a rift in the fans’ sympathies.


The aforementioned affirmation is not a subjective opinion; it can be confirmed in the hundreds of comments presented in the Cubadebate site from March 31 to April 1. We have chosen one of them that under the title “Para todos los pineros” (For All the Isla de la Juventud People), says: “Your triumph, except for Matanzas, was celebrated by all of Cuba. Here in Villa Clara, for example, there were even fireworks to celebrate your team’s victory.”


The reason why the archipelago’s fans overwhelmingly were against the Matanzas team, in favour of Isla de la Juventud, also can be found in the cited forum and in others, in the social networks as well as on each barrio corner, but we are not going to insist on this and add insult to injury. It is an endless subject.


The sympathies generated by the so-called Piratas, not just because of the antipathy toward their opponents in the semifinals but also for their fighting spirit and happy playing, and the solidarity that the most humble teams always awaken, continued accompanying them in the playoff, which they were able to win and which to a certain extent they deserved for their courage.


In the end, the team that played the best in the second part of the tourney triumphed, the one that did its best in the post season, and that also showed attributes in the fight and made its higher condition worthy.


However, despite the dedication with which they disputed the final games, the hard-fought scores and the emotion of the meets, the decrease in the level of the national pastime was confirmed and, it seems, touched rock bottom. If profound changes are not made in the structure of the next National Series, the mistakes will be even greater.


Cuban baseball needs to look inside itself, to seek itself, to see its evolution since the 19th century, to strengthen its foundation and to create a development project according to current times, placing all the cards on the table.


Of course, saying Cuban baseball is very abstract, it would be more appropriate to refer to its leadership, to the institution that governs it, which should favour a dialogue between all the actors that have to do with this sport: players, technicians, trainers, journalists and fans. Why? The situation demands it.


The structure of the 16 teams for the national series cannot continue as it is, there aren’t enough baseball players. But neither are there managers, trainers nor umpires. And we’re talking about quality, about knowhow, experience, trade.


The argument of representativeness and identity of the provinces can no longer be sustained. Take a look at the roll calls of the eight teams that were in the second stage of the season, take a look at the teams in the seminfinals. They were multiprovincial teams.


With the idea of raising the level with the reinforcements, the teams have lost their identity; then, what sense is there in the name of the province if of the eight regular players, half of them and even more are from another region.


In the first years of the national series, for some two decades, they were favoured by the wisdom of a large group of former professional baseball players: Pedro Natilla Jiménez, Conrado Marrero, Gilberto Torres, Fermín Guerra, Ramón Carneado, Roberto Ledo, Orlando Leroux, Andrés Ayón, etc. They passed on their knowledge to two generations, but those teachers are no longer present and their absence has left a big void.


Sports is not alien to the changes taking place in Cuban society, in fact they are also being seen in the area of baseball with the hiring of baseball players by other countries, but until now those actions have not reverted to quality for baseball. We export baseball players, but we import nothing, no U.S. or Japanese technicians come here to show us their knowledge, to give lectures. Or do they do so and we don’t find out?


On the other hand, the diaspora does not stop; paradoxically, when our baseball is at its lowest level, the Cuban baseball players are more popular and most sought-after in that sport’s elite. It can be said they are in fashion. But it is a reality that cannot be faced with slogans, with obsolete speeches, with bad strategies, because the game will continue to be lost. And baseball, for Cubans, is a very serious thing. (2015)

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