Maria Matienzo Puerto
HAVANA TIMES, Feb 11 — I don’t like baseball; it just doesn’t go with me. I’m reminded of this each time a fan tries to explain to me the rules and I just can’t connect with the sport.
I always listen to their explanations to the end, even managing to understand them at the time. But there’s no way I can keep my attention on that sport over it’s nearly year round games and playoffs.
Some time ago I tried to get into the spirit, so I put up a sign on my front door supporting the hometown team: Havana’s “Industriales” (especially since they represent the city where I was born).
Nevertheless, as I was coming home from work I was concerned about the indignation my sign might generate by offending other people’s feelings.
Fortunately the wind took care of everything for me. The sign had blown away.
The “other side of the ball” (as we say here in Cuba) is the sociology of this situation. Of course baseball, like in all spheres of society, is a reflection of the chaos we experience, especially when we see violent images circulating around underground or hear tales about brawls and police repression at different stadiums.
But since chaos is everywhere, I wondered: why worry about it in the national sport?
However I changed my mind about this after reading a book of interviews granted to Adriana Zamora by several baseball players. (The book is being presented at the current Cuba International Book Fair published by the En Vivo publishers of the Cuban Radio and TV Institute.)
More than a history of individual players, I read stories in which people — lots of people — were betrayed. Previously I had a vague idea of ??how short the professional life of an athlete could be, but now I have the certainty that it’s very short and subjects the players to manipulation.
Many of Cuba’s players are simply retired, without explanation. Some of these had been in very good physical condition but were suddenly retired, a decision made in some dark office where the only concern (I imagine) was about the player defecting from the baseball squad.
I was sorry to read in the book how some of the top athletes of the game, those who in their time had attracted large sums of money into the Cuban economy (though certainly not into their own pockets), were used to maintain some vague notion of national prestige.
In the case of Alfonso Urquiola, for example, after participating in the ‘94 world championships and setting a batting record, a year later he didn’t make the Cuban team – with no explanation. This also happened to Victor Mesa and Lourdes Gourriel.
Other times, after having given their all on the field and knowing that they had excelled during the training for the shortlist of players vying to make the national team, they learned that they had simply been excluded from the rooster, and thus the chance to play abroad. In fact, those responsible knew that the decision had been made a month earlier before all the training had begun.
The names I could mention include Jorge Fuentes, Luis Giraldo Casanova, Ormari Romero, Ermidelio Urrutia, Juan Castro, Luis Ulacia, Rey Vicente Anglada, Felix Isasi, Miguel Cuevas, Rodolfo Puentes, and many others. Some retired, a few served as managers of teams (including the national team) from different eras of Cuban baseball, yet they all showed a blind loyalty — more than to the government itself — to the Cuban Revolution.
All of them, with proven abilities to be accepted into the ranks of the US major leagues, experienced pangs of frustration because their feelings of guilt were always greater than their desires to make millions in the international arena.
Now they resign themselves to something officials call “attention to athletes” (or something like that). This translates into an occasional vacation at a Cuban hotel or a basket on a specific date with food or shoes, who knows?
The book will be released with title “Confesiones de Grandes” (Confessions of top players), and also includes interviews with Panamanian and Puerto Rican players. It is an across-the-grain incision with a rusty butter knife into the history of Cuba. The stories are told by the players themselves, they themselves are the protagonists.
I’m still not a fan or even interested in baseball, but as you can now see, there are stories about the betrayal of Cubans all over – the betrayal of faith, the betrayal of political naivety and trust of athletes and the population.