A Unified Team Cuba for the Baseball Classic Rehashed

By Ronal Quiñones

HAVANA TIMES – The idea had already been floated before, but in recent days it has gained steam with statements from several baseball players living outside of Cuba, including some retired, about the possibility of putting together a baseball team independently of the Cuban Federation.

Last week, several Cuban baseball players who play in the Major Leagues joined together in the Association of Cuban Professional Baseball Players to promote the creation of a team that would participate in the next World Baseball Classic, tentatively in 2023.

On the board of directors of the newly born Association are former players such as Luis Tiant, Edilberto Oropesa, Rene Arocha, Euclides Rojas and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, among others.

The initiative includes a petition to Cuban fans to support this decision, hosted on the change.org site.

The selection could be made from hundreds of players who have left the island in recent years, several of whom shine in the Major Leagues, but also others who play in tournaments in Asia.

When this initiative was launched a few years ago, they thought of doing it in a unified way, with some of the players from the Cuban national team. However, now they want to do it completely independently of the Cuban authorities, which would leave these players out, although it has never been the purpose to do so.

The reason is that the Cuban Baseball Federation has already called the proposal a “farce”, and has apparently given up participating in the next Classic, in 2023.

The trigger is known to all: the deep crisis of Cuba’s results in international events. Since the 2006 World Classic, more than 15 years ago, the senior team has not recorded an outstanding result, and has even accumulated several embarrassments: its participation in the following Classics, the non-classification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the disastrous performance at the Pan American Games in Lima 2019, just to mention the most notorious.

Although the managers of these teams have been identified as the main culprits, the truth is that Cuban baseball is not at the level of many countries, not even of its neighbors on the continent. While these do not have very powerful leagues, they do present in all tournaments players with experience in the Major Leagues, who are able to make the necessary adjustments in the middle of the competition. Even in the same game, to take the victory at the last minute, while ours are unable to adapt to the variety of pitchers and hitters they face.

The fundamental cause is the low level of our domestic league, where anyone hits above a .350 average, a figure that is more than exclusive in any league that is respected. The weakness of most of our pitchers, very few capable of sustaining the 90-mile speed in their deliveries, with little control and little development of tactical thinking, makes our sluggers very comfortable in the batter’s box. Then they suffer when they stand before a higher-level pitcher.

If to this is added that when the squad is formed, those who are supposed to help the team shine, the few that excel in the Japanese League, are not in their best shape, and the result is total disaster.

Some might think that this harsh reality would be the same if we had the talent of the Major Leaguers, but that remains to be seen. In addition to fitness, motivation plays a key role here, and those who truly want to wear the four-letter uniform are likely to perform at least decently.

Of course, this is speculation, but if it’s not tested, we’ll never know if it works. That has been the formula used by Cuban sports in recent years, but only those that the Cuban authorities consider “worthy” of representing them are eligible. It is not only with baseball, in recent years we have dispensed with stellar volleyball players who left the country through different routes.

Yuliesky Gourriel, Jose Dariel Abreu and former MLB Odrisamer Despaigne, among others, have publicly expressed their desire to join that hypothetical national team, but no one has responded. Supposedly it was easier for outfielder Henry Urrutia when he tried the same thing last year before the Olympic qualifiers, but he did not receive approval. Not even when he is the son of a Glory of Cuban Sports, one of those fully identified with the dominant political ideal, or because he is not active in US baseball… everything was up in the air.

Asked by the Association of Professional Cuban Baseball Players, Ermidelio Urrutia’s son replied: “I sincerely hope that this happens, but without disrespecting the Cuban players who are on the island, if we want to see our team be competitive at the Classic, we need a team of Major League caliber.”

Therefore, everything depends on who makes the decisions, and in theory it is impossible to take that away from the Cuban Federation, because it is the one that has the support of the International Federation. However, since the World Baseball Classic is organized by Major League Baseball, the idea is not a closed subject.

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