Cuba in Acid Test with Japan

By Circles Robinson, photos by Caridad

Food service employees: The best so far has been that all the players have been given a chance to play
Food service employees: The best so far has been that all the players have been given a chance to play

HAVANA TIMES, March 15 — Cuba opens its second round of play in the World Baseball Classic Sunday in San Diego at 4:00 p.m. ET against Japan, the team that dealt it a painful defeat in the final of the same tournament in 2006.

The Cubans are coming off a 16-4 blow-out win over Mexico in their final first round game and Japan off losing a tense pitching duel 1-0 to Korea. In the other Pool 1 game also at San Diego’s Petco Park Stadium on Sunday, Korea plays Mexico at 11:00 p.m. ET.

Havana Times has been asking people around the capital city if they’ve been watching the games and their opinions of their country’s team.

Student: Even though I have to get up early I like to see at least part of the game
Student: Even though I have to get up early I like to see at least part of the game

A doorman at the Plaza Hotel off the city’s Central Park said, “The only way to win over Japan is to move the bench, like Higinio [the manager] has been doing so far.” A food service worker agreed: “The best the team has had thus far is that all the players have been given a chance to play.”

A woman in line at a pharmacy said, “Despite having a fever I took a couple pills to be able to watch the game against Mexico.” A teacher noted, “Of course I like baseball; it’s as much part of culture as a theater play.”

A restoration worker recalled. “Japan has defeated us on several occasions, but this time we are ready to beat them. A shop worker said, “The game against Mexico ended any doubts that the Cuban hitters are in great form.”

Of course not everyone is moved by the sport. A retiree said, “My daughter was who liked baseball, but she’s not here anymore,” and a pork sandwich seller said, “I don’t have time to watch the ball games.”

Some of those interviewed were convinced that this time around Team Cuba is at its best. A retired Armed Forces officer proclaimed: “I have not doubt that Cuba’s going to be the champion!” An electrician said “This time we’re going to beat Japan.”

Two retirees: My daughter was who liked baseball, but she’s not here anymore
Two retirees: My daughter was who liked baseball, but she’s not here anymore

Whether those opinions are wishful thinking or become reality will begin to unfold on Sunday when the much more competitive double-elimination second round of the World Baseball Classic begins for Cuba.

By Thursday March 19th we’ll know which two of the four teams in Pool 1 (Cuba, Korea, Japan and Mexico) will make it to the semifinals in Los Angeles.

Venezuela and Puerto Rico Win in Florida

Ret. Armed Forces: Listen, I have no doubt that Cuba’s going to the champion!
Ret. Armed Forces: Listen, I have no doubt that Cuba’s going to be the champion!

Three thousand miles east in Miami, Pool 2 of the WBC got underway on Saturday with a hard fought pitching duel where Venezuela edged the tournament’s Cinderella team, The Netherlands, 3-1.

The South Americans only managed three hits but made them count including a triple by Endy Chavez in the opening inning that turned into a run and solo homers by Miguel Cabrera in the fourth and Jose Lopez gave Venezuela an insurance run in the eighth.

The Netherlands got their run in the second but couldn’t come up with the clutch hits to back starter Sydney Ponson who went five innings allowing only two hits and two runs. Carlos Silva got the win for Venezuela with seven strong innings allowing four hits and one run.

The awaited night clash between Puerto Rico and the USA, two teams stacked with Major League stars, turned out far different than expected.

Puerto Rico took a 6-0 lead in the second inning battering starter Jake Peavey and cruised to a 11-1 win over the USA with the game called after 7-innings on the mercy rule. Felipe Lopez blasted a long 2-run homer and an RBI double, and Carlos Beltran went 3-for-3 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBIs, to lead Puerto Rico.

Team USA now plays a do-or-die game against The Netherlands on Sunday while Puerto Rico has the day off before playing Venezuela on Monday.

For on-the-scene coverage of Cuba at the World Baseball Classic read Peter C. Bjarkman’s Havana Times WBC Diary

Click on the thumbnails to see all the photos in this gallery



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