One of Cuban baseball’s great pitchers
By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – Still today many fans believe that pitcher Lazaro Valle retired from active sport because his abilities had diminished. It is true that he was already 40 years old when he made that decision in 2002. However, it was something much more personal. This was revealed to us in a recent exchange.
“When I retired I was still throwing 90 MPH, and I had made Team Cuba. But I suffered a lot with the illness of my sister Mercedes (cancer). She had suffered so much that after she passed away, I didn’t want to continue pitching and that caused me a lot of harm. It made me think of family, for all the time I was away. So, I decided not to play anymore. I needed to feel that I was there for mine as much as possible.”
On that aspect, he wanted to elaborate a little more …
Lazaro Valle: I must say that a lot of what I achieved [in my baseball career] I owe to my wife Margarita. She was there, above all, in bad times. Margarita was the one who was waiting for me at the house with the ice pack to put on my arm and give me a massage. She raised my daughter (from another marriage) as if she were hers since she was five years old. For that reason, my daughter considers Margarita her mother. We’ve been married for more than 30 years, and I did nothing without relying on her. When I was down, she instilled in me a lot of optimism, and still does. That is why I always say that she is one of the most beautiful things in my life.
Another tough moment was when he lost his father in 1996, and Havana’s Industriales was playing the final against Villa Clara. Valle traveled to Santa Clara and won the game that gave the capital the throne.
Lazaro Valle: It was my duty, and I felt that I was paying the best tribute to him. Emotionally I wasn’t myself, but sometimes one overcomes, perhaps even without knowing it. My faith helped me too. I owe my name to San Lazaro, and I will always pay tribute to him at the Rincon sanctuary. I am also a devotee of the Virgen de la Caridad.
It was also said that you were originally from Villa Clara…
Lazaro Valle: Many people think that I was born in Villa Clara, but that wasn’t the case. My father was a cane cutter and participated in all the harvests, and three of my brothers were born there, but I was born in Old Havana. I had a very beautiful childhood there. Even today I like going there and walking around, I always miss it.
At first I played outfield and first base, and was even a catcher, but thanks to Pedro Chavez I started pitching. I never really liked the mound, but Chavez dared to start me against Granma. I gave seven zeros, but I couldn’t continue in the eighth inning, I had no preparation for that. That was in 1985, in 1986 I made the Metropolitanos team as a pitcher and the following year I was a real pitcher.
I had the opportunity to pitch in one of the best pitching rotations there has been in Cuba. The staff included Jose Modesto Darcourt, Angel Leocadio Diaz, El Duque Hernandez, Rene Arocha and Euclides Rojas. [That was with Industriales, the popular Havana team with whom he played the last 11 years of his career.]
We squeezed the knowledge from the coaches and we also helped each other and that helped us grow. Especially in terms of tactical thinking, because a pitcher needs to think and pitching is an art.
In addition to Chavez, I have to thank Coco Gomez and Nelson Ciero. And I have a special affection for Pedro Perez, whom I love like a father. There isn’t a pitcher who has reached stardom on Team Cuba that didn’t receive at least a grain of sand of Pedro’s knowledge. Hopefully, his experience will be used by the new generations.
Without a doubt, in his brilliant world-class sports career (16-0 as a pitcher in international events) the climax was the perfect game he threw against South Korea at the Intercontinental Cup in Puerto Rico, on August 22, 1989.
Lazaro Valle: I prepared very well for that game. Víctor Mesa and (Ermidelio) Urrutia told me I was well rested, and that when I pitched, I was going to give a perfect game or no-hitter. But I replied that such was very difficult. I never really thought about it, especially since Korea was the team hitting the most after Cuba. Nonetheless, I was at my best, with a luxurious speed.”
The first of the most famous games of Cuban players against professionals took place in that same scenario, when the Cuban team faced the Senators of San Juan. Valle was also phenomenal.
Lazaro Valle: They had leading figures from the Major Leagues like Carlos Baerga, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, Javy Lopez and others. I pitched seven innings, with eight strikeouts and two dirty runs. That showed me that I could face the best in the world.
He currently works as coach of his beloved Industriales, and on that he comments…
Lazaro Valle: Today I try to get my pitchers to expand their repertoire. I threw three types of sliders, with four different grips, and over time I was incorporating a kind of splitter and the change up, which was what made me reach my maximum level. A speed pitcher must have these types of pitches, since generally the curve is not effective, since it is too contrasting.
The problem is that they come to the league with training problems. They don’t know that the fastball, for example, can be thrown in nine different ways. I have observed 15-year-olds from other countries who know four types of pitches, and that is rarely seen here. With a fastball and curve and nothing else it is difficult to win these days, and pitchers look helpless.
Dedication is also important. I see, sometimes, boys come to Industriales, and settle for making the team. The shirt is for sweating, not for display!
In these times, social networks affect concentration a lot. Dedication has to do with discipline. You must consider that many people didn’t go to work or school to see us at the stadium. You must earn the respect of the fans. You must get to the field ready to give everything to see the fruit of your work.