My Turn at Bat, a column by Ray Otero*
HAVANA TIMES, Jan 7 — I’m back at the plate during this first week of 2012 with a Happy New Year to all our readers.
As the current Cuban Baseball League season got back underway this week, the teams that were heading their respective divisions as 2011 came to a close continued their course despite the changeover from the Mizuno 150 to the Mizuno 200 baseball.
Playing at home against Cienfuegos, Matanzas showed that the squad, with almost the same players year after year, can put on a good show due to their team spirit and desire to do things right on the ball field.
After falling in the series opener, in a pitching gem from Cienfuegos lefty Norberto Gonzalez, Matanzas rebounded to win the next two games despite a rested Cienfuegos pitching staff and slugger Jose Dariel Abreu, no easy feat.
But manager Victor Mesa knew how to shuffle his cards. After losing on Tuesday, the Matanzas press had criticized him for not starting his top pitcher Yohan Hernandez in the series opener. But Mesa’s tactic proved made to order.
Facing Cienfuegos top hurler, he decided not to use his best card. Matanzas managed to stay in the game for the first half and then on the following day he used Hernandez to go the route. His other ace, Jorge Martinez was then ready to give his team an easy victory on Thursday.
Mesa took the risk and it all worked out for him. That’s baseball, with its probabilities but also with the factor of strategic thinking above all regrets. Believe me; Victor knows a ton about aggressiveness, despite still being called crazy by his critics. Our sometimes sleepy and conformist baseball could use more managers like him.
And if things worked out well for Matanzas in the West, Villa Clara did just the same in the Eastern Division. No team has more wins than their 16, eleven at home, more than any other team, and on the road their 5-1 record gives them an enviable .833 pct.
With those credentials VC’s rookie manager Ramon Moret is already a favorite to be the Eastern Division manager for the upcoming All-Star game.
And talking about the All Star game, this year the teams will be chosen by popular vote for the first time in many years. Online fans will have a chance to vote as well on the Cuban Baseball Federation website.
The game is set for February 19, but the stadium to host the event has yet to be announced.
There are a lot of names that we’ll probably see in the game that will take the place of yearly fixtures on the player’s roster.
Of those players that I think should not be missing based, on the first quarter of the season, are the league batting leader, Aledmis Diaz of Villa Clara; the homerun leaders Yulieski Gourriel of Sancti Spiritus and Hector Olivera of Santiago de Cuba; outfielders like José Miguel Fernandez and Guillermo Heredia of Matanzas, Andy Zamora de Villa Clara, Edilse Silva of Santiago de Cuba, Irait Chirino of Industriales, Alfredo Despaigne of Granma and catchers like Yosvany Alarcon of Las Tunas, Lorenzo Quintana and Yosvany Pereza of Pinar del Rio and Lazaro Herrera of Matanzas.
Looking at the pitchers the league leader so far with five victories is Yohan Hernandez of Matanzas; Yadier Pedroso of Artemisa in strikeouts with 44 and Duniel Ibarra of Cienfuegos has 9 saves. Also having good years are Jorge Martinez of Matanzas and Pablo Millán Fernandez of Holguin. All have merits to be considered for the All-Stars.
Good news for Industriales fans with key outfielder Yohandry Urgelles activated and in the starting lineup this week after recovering from surgery.
Bad news came for division leader Matanzas as their star first baseman Yoandry Garlobo will be out for the season. He is expected to undergo an operation for a slipped disc.
Batting leader Aldemis Diaz, who is hitting .464, didn’t play during the first week of 2012, but he did see action yesterday in an exhibition game between Cuban and US university teams.
A piece of excellent news is the recuperation of pitcher Norge Luis Vera from a car accident that put his life in danger.
Two players who have won recent homerun titles, Jose Dariel Abreu of Cienfuegos and Alfredo Despaigne of Granma, arrived at seven each, only one behind the leaders.
Santiago de Cuba is back to its old ways and leads the league in homers with 37. Five teams are on or above .300 in team batting: Villa Clara (.324), Matanzas (.306), Industriales (.305), Holguin and Camaguey both with exactly (.300).
And if Santiago’s heavy bats have returned it to its winning ways, Industriales has done the same with speed on the bases, with a league leading 26 stolen bases. The team with the least steals, who would have guessed, Matanzas, with only two in seven attempts and that with Victor Mesa in charge.
The slate of series to be played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday are the following:
1:00 p.m. Las Tunas at Granma
8:15 p.m. Pinar del Rio at Villa Clara (TV)
1:00 p.m. Camaguey at Santiago de Cuba
1:00 p.m. Ciego de Avila at Guantanamo
1:00 p.m. Sancti Spiritus at Artemisa
1:00 p.m. Mayabeque at Cienfuegos
1:00 p.m. Metropolitanos at Industriales (Latinoamericano Stadium)
1:00 p.m. Isla de la Juventud at Matanzas
*Ray Otero’s daily coverage of the Cuban Baseball League can be read on Baseballdecuba.com.