Cuba Wants Big to Win the Caribbean Baseball Series

By Ronal Quiñones

Caribbean SeriesHAVANA TIMES — Though Cuba’s Villa Clara team had a poor showing at the Caribbean Series last year (the island took part for the first time after 50 years of absence from the tournament), Cuba expects its Pinar del Rio team to fare better at this year’s championship, scheduled to take place in Puerto Rico from February 2 to 8.

To ensure this, Cuban sports authorities have decided to reinforce the island’s champion last season as much as possible, in order to have a fighting chance at the series, where the stars of the region’s main baseball leagues are to meet.

On this occasion, more than half of the players on the Pinar del Rio team for the series are not from the province of Pinar del Rio. According to sports authorities, this, a clear sign that Cuba is intent on winning the series, is aimed at giving greater impetus to efforts to make Cuba a full member of the Caribbean’s Professional Baseball Federation (CBPC). This year and last, Cuba has participated as a guest.

Of course, Cuba’s membership with the federation does not depend entirely on winning the Caribbean Series, but such a victory would make Cuba’s case stronger, which is why almost all of the members of the team that won at the Veracruz 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games will be present there.

Pinar del Rio’s team has kept its key players, but few are likely to go out to field to face up to yet unknown rivals (the rest of the participants: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, are putting together their teams at the moment as their national seasons come to an end).

Pinar del Río celebrating the 2013-2014 Cuban League Championship.
Pinar del Río celebrating the 2013-2014 Cuban League Championship.  Photo: baseballdecuba.com

As has become customary here, we gathered people’s opinions on the subject. We spoke about the upcoming series and about Cuban baseball in general.

“With the team they’ve put together, we can expect only failure,” says German. “If they win, it’ll be out of sheer luck. If they lose, they will have lost against lesser teams. They won’t convince anyone, whatever they do. Last year it was the opposite situation, because one couldn’t expect much from Villa Clara’s team. This year, they’ve put the noose around their necks.”

“That may be so,” Arturo replies, “but I’m a bit embarrassed about what happened with Villa Clara. I’ve always heard that you should win or lose giving your best. You give your best and, if you don’t win, it doesn’t matter. But don’t go with a bunch of clowns, you can’t expect to win and people are always going to say that you didn’t do everything you could to win.”

“We can’t forget,” Misael opines, “that Cuba has a great advantage over all others. All of its baseball players are available; they don’t have to wait for some permit from the Big Leagues or for someone to say: ‘So-and-so can only pitch three innings’ and things of the sort. It’s got 300 players to choose from and it can take advantage of this and put together a good team. The other countries’ teams don’t do it because they can’t not because they don’t want to.”

“Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are going with the best they can put together. If it were up to them, they would send Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera, but the owners of their teams won’t allow it. That’s why the team that wins [the national series] and the team that actually goes to the Caribbean Series are so different, because they need to get permission to use certain players for the series and they don’t always get it. In that case, they have to be creative to fill the gaps and throw together a new team,” Alexis comments.

“That’s another problem,” Alexis replies. “Almost a year has passed since Pinar del Rio won. If Pinar del Rio had gone to the Caribbean Series right after winning, they wouldn’t have had to reinforce the team much. Right now, however, most of the players are out of shape. That’s why the National Series calendar has to be changed, because we’ve had three suspensions this year: the Central American Games, the New Year’s break and now this one. No one can perform well this way, because it interferes with the training schedules.”

“Yes,” Paulo interjects. “But what they’re doing isn’t a joke. They know very well what they need for each position and every pitching specialty, and they call the people they’re going to use. They’re all players with many years of professional experience who know what they have to do at every moment. Pinar del Rio had many young players who weren’t going hit the ball.”

“The problem is that they always use the same people. Look, what would you say Frederich Cepeda did to get there? He’s playing terribly. If I’m going to leave behind a player from Pinar del Rio who was with their championship team last year, I should replace him with someone better. Norge Luis Ruiz hasn’t pitched very well either, but managers are married to these people,” Otmaro stated.

“They have to reinforce the team, because Pinar del Rio is not doing too well. They barely managed to qualify for the second phase of this season. William Saavedra and Yosvany Peraza, their best homerun hitters, haven’t hit against anyone- so you can imagine how the rest would do against pitchers who know how to locate each throw,” Braulio argues.

“That’s another problem,” Alexis replies. “Almost a year has passed since Pinar del Rio won. If Pinar del Rio had gone to the Caribbean Series right after winning, they wouldn’t have had to reinforce the team much. Right now, however, most of the players are out of shape. That’s why the National Series calendar has to be changed, because we’ve had three suspensions this year: the Central American Games, the New Year’s break and now this one. No one can perform well this way, because it interferes with the training schedules.”

Arturo jumps in again: “It’s true, but it’s not because of the Caribbean Series. Ultimately, we don’t know whether we’ll have our best there. You have to do this because of the whole issue of contracts. All serious leagues around the world start in April, and here, they’re still playing at that time. The team who paid to have Yuliesky Gourriel or Alfredo Despaigne wants to have them there at the start of training. Also, if their teams make it to the post-season, they won’t be able to have those players and the National Series suffers. That is why the baseball calendar in Cuba has to be changed, because it’s five of them now [contracted in foreign leagues] and the number should grow over time, and we’ll end up seeing a under-23 final in Cuba.”

“Well, they’ve already said they’re going to change things, not next year but in 2017. Everything moves at a snail’s pace here. What everyone knows ought to happen, the Commission wants to try out first. Only after they’ve had a disaster do they do anything. They have no foresight – that would be asking too much of them.”



2 thoughts on “Cuba Wants Big to Win the Caribbean Baseball Series

  • Hope Cuba comes to an agreement with major leagues in usa so that their best players dont have to sneak out of the country.

    Reply
  • It will be interesting to see what happens there. Whatever happens, it will change Cuban baseball. It would be great if Cuban ballplayers now in the MLB could play for the Cuban national team in international competitions, like the Olympics, the PanAm Games or the World Baseball Classic.

    Reply

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