In the Hot Corner with Alberto

By Osmel Almaguer

The “Esquina Caliente” (hot corner) in Havana’s Central Park.
The “Esquina Caliente” (hot corner) in Havana’s Central Park.

Yesterday was payday at work, and though I’m on vacation, I stopped by to pick up my salary.  On the way home I cut through Central Park, famous for its “esquina caliente” (the hot corner).  In such places, found anywhere in Cuban cities and even the countryside, sports debates take place between two or more persons [usually men], where they make their arguments – especially those having to do with baseball – and almost always do so with a great deal of passion.

This is because each Cuban believes they personally are the one who knows most about any given issue, and all he or she needs is a place to demonstrate this.

Yesterday there were a lot of people on this Central Park corner – so many that that they had to form into three groups, all talking about the upcoming World Cup Baseball Tournament, set to take place in several European cities through September 27.  Comments were made about tune-up games our team had played and how bad they looked at bat.

In another one of the groups it was said that the coaches don’t play the best players, and that’s why we haven’t won a serious championship for some time.  The players are disappointed when they see – despite their considerable abilities – the coaches always putting in the same guys.  And just as in any gathering of people there’s always someone who stands out, this group would not be the exception.

The “Esquina Caliente” (hot corner) in Havana’s Central Park.
The “Esquina Caliente” (hot corner) in Havana’s Central Park.

A brown-skinned resident of Santiago de Cuba, just over fifty, raised his voice in his eastern Cuban lilt.  The others, in the majority, followed in.  Since generally burning debates are waged on these “esquinas calientes,” there can also be times in which everyone is in agreement about something, though they offer slight twists and new elements to the exchange, like in this case.

The guy that caught my attention was named Alberto.  Back in his day he had been a gifted pitcher who won a great number of games for his province of Santiago.  Everybody knew that he had deserved a spot on the national team to prove he could play at that level – but nobody gave it to him.  With shattered illusions, he decided to give up the sport.

Alberto cited his own case as an example of the times when we allowed the ruining of athletes from emotional abuse or spiritual mistreatment; sportspeople need to know that they are taken into consideration, and that what they do really matters.

Now we’re at the World Cup, which everyone knows are not of the highest quality.  Nonetheless, we always dig our heels insisting on seeing the same lineup play, without giving opportunities to new players that we need to develop. What are we afraid of? Not winning? We don’t win anymore anyway.  Now what’s important is to think of getting our baseball team back up to par in the medium or long run, but with experiences like Alberto’s, soon we’ll even be losing against Jamaica.