HAVANA TIMES — Everything related to Cuban baseball nowadays is complicated and controversial, and the island’s team being invited to the 56th edition of the Caribbean Series after decades of absence is not the exception.
The main issue came with the question of whether to reinforce or not the current Cuban champion, Villa Clara, which is the country’s representative to the Series to take place starting Saturday Feb. 1 and conclude a week later at the same Nueva Esparta stadium on Margarita island, Venezuela.
In the end, six players were chosen from other teams to beef up Villa Clara for the Caribbean Series 2014. These were third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, outfielder Alfredo Despaigne, second baseman Jose M. Fernandez and the right handed pitchers Ismel Jimenez , Vicyohandry Odelin and Norge L. Ruiz.
At the beginning of the week the Orange team was announced, including the reinforcements.
Pitchers (11): Freddy Asiel Alvarez (RH), Norge L. Ruíz (RH) *, Ismel Jiménez (RH) *, Vicyohandry Odelín (RH) *, Yasmani Hernández Romero (LH), Alaín Sánchez (RH), Irvin del Río (RH), Jonder Martínez (RH) **, Yosvany Pérez (RH), Robelio Carrillo (LH) and Diosdani Castillo (RH).
Catchers (2): Ariel Pestano and Yulexis la Rosa.
Infielders (8): Ariel Borrero (1B/DH), Ramon Lunar (1B), Andy Sarduy (2B), Yeniet Pérez (3B), Yulieski Gourriel * (3B), Yandy Canto (SS), José M. Fernández * (2B), Yordan Manduley ** (SS) and Danel Castro ** (2B/SS).
Outfielders (7): Alfredo Despaigne * (LF), Yuniet Flores (LF), Yordanis Linarez (CF), Edilse Silva ** (CF), Lazaro Ramírez (RF) and Andy Zamora (RF)
* Reinforcements to Villa Clara
** Reinforcements that were members of Villa Clara champion team last season.
The topic of the reinforcements was polemic for Cuban fans, a result of a lack of information about how teams handle their participation in this tournament.
First of all, if we follow the rules of the countries that are members of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation and the tournament itself, there are no limits in the number of reinforcements to participate in this event, considered by many as a small Caribbean Baseball World Series.
But without going into details we can note, for example, that during last year’s edition, celebrated in Hermosillo, México, the team that eventually was the champion, the Obregon Yaquis (winner also of the Pacific Mexican League) had 13 reinforcements, making Villa Clara’s participation this year with six imports insignificant.
Ramon More remains the Villa Clara manager for the Caribbean Series together with his assistants. One addition to the coaching staff for the Venezuela event is Villa Clara born Victor Mesa, four years director of Team Cuba.
As was expected, the national baseball commissioner, Higinio Velez, is in charge of the Cuban delegation in this historical return to the Caribbean Series.
Villa Clara will make its first appearance on February 1st facing the current Mexican league champion. On the following days VC will play against Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The semifinal round will take place of Feb. 6 and 7 and the final championship game on February 8.
Villa Clara expects to reach the semifinals (only one team will be eliminated in the qualifying round) and from there go for one of the two tickets to the final.
This is the first time that Villa Clara competes for Cuba. The last time the island had a team that reached the finals was in 1960, the last year it fielded a squad. The last Cuban team to win the tournament was in 1957.
(*) Ray Otero’s reports can be read at Baseballdecuba.com.