What Gold Means to Cuba in Baseball

By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 28 – Two retirees were on day watch on the first floor of a building.  They were listening on the radio that the Cuban team had scored another run.  “We only need one more to tie, and there’s still a lot of time,” said one of them with a smile full of optimism.  Many people like them wanted Cuba to take the gold.

Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.

In a dollar store, the workers were watching the game.  One of them, Oscar, cannot hide his enthusiasm for the opposing team:

“They’re better. It’s true. Look, those are twenty-something-year-old kids.  None of them is a professional.  All the countries have sent third rate teams; Cuba always sends the same one to all the tournaments, it never changes.  The best in the US aren’t playing; the monster players aren’t there – but they’re still going to win.  I don’t know what the Cuban coaches are thinking – that the game is won because you want to and that’s it?  You have to be good, and for the gold you have to be the best.  What happened with Cuba in the Baseball Classic?  They’re afraid of Japan… when somebody says the name Matsuzaka, the Cubans don’t even want to leave the hotel…”

Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.
Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.

I couldn’t hear Oscar’s opinion when Borrero hit a two-run homer to tie the score at 4-4 in the sixth inning.  But when they took out Norge Luis Vera (the pitcher that opened the game), and they put in Lazo, the commentaries were immediately forthcoming.

In different Havana bars people met to criticize, enjoy and suffer the World Cup.  Some shouted, while others suffered the tension in silence – sighing and wiping the sweat from their brows with their hands.

“Lazo isn’t up to this anymore. He should retire and spend the rest of his life coaching 5 and 6 year-olds.  That’s all he’s good for,” a policeman on Obispo Street shouted.

Everybody has their opinion.  And when it comes to baseball, all Cubans know what has to be done.

Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.

“This game is good for demonstrating that we’re in a rut. We have to work the bench and start playing a different game,” said Mercedes, a woman who was listening to the radio at the entrance of her building.

The sports narrators that went to the World Cup with the team insist on radio and TV of the chance of a win, that it can still be done.  Yet at the same time they remind us that tomorrow is the anniversary of the country’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).  They barely make reference to the fact that there is little hope of the team overcoming the opponent’s five-run advantage in one inning.

This World Cup Baseball tournament has generated more than a few opinions, as always.  Cubans have a bad habit of lionizing their team when it wins, filling themselves with pride. But when the opposite strikes, they trash these same players, as if on other occasions they hadn’t played better.

Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.
Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.

Despite Despaigne’s solo homerun in the eighth inning, which brought the game to 10 to 5, there was still a tremendous distance to catch up.  The bartender remarked that the US had more pitchers than Cuba had players (without mentioning that the island’s team doesn’t take full advantage of the pitchers it does have).

Faces grimacing, fists balled tight from impotence, adrenaline rushing.  People take baseball very seriously in Cuba, and if it’s against the United States,” much more so.

“On this occasion we couldn’t beat them. What we need to do is correct our errors, not fall in love with the players.  I believe they should send the Havana team, reinforced with some players from other provinces.  Havana won the national championship; it demonstrated that it was in shape and deserved to play, but they always send the same ones,” said Onerquis when he saw that the hit by Céspedes, the walk to Michel Enriquez and Despaigne’s long fly in the ninth couldn’t do anything.

The uproar of the get-together of baseball fanatics in Havana’s Central Park could be heard from a block away.  Hollering, waving in the air, frustration and hilarity all floated about in these historic grounds.

Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.
Following the 2009 World Cup Baseball Tournament in Havana, Cuba.

The regional question is divisive.  Most people think that there should have been more players from… (whatever’s the native province of whoever’s speaking).  The discussion gets wearisome when each person defends their provincial compatriots without caring about the Cuban team as a whole.  People forget that the squad represents all of the country’s provinces.  Ernesto (a fan of one of the Havana teams) said:

“I just wasn’t motivated. It’s a question of principles. If there aren’t any players from of my team – the “Industriales” – I don’t feel compelled to watch anything.  If they had won – fine, but they lost, and I’m happy because the lineup lacked key players like Mayeta and Carlos Tabares.”

Carlos Manuel’s yelling was deafening to everyone passing by.  The team that made the most errors in a game is Cuba. That’s a shame.  We haven’t won since the Intercontinental tournament in 2006.  And we’re going to keep on suffering like this for a long time.  I’m with Cuba, but a team that plays like that loses, that’s reality.”

The reality is that neither Carlos Manuel nor the others recognize that Cuba did its best; it won a lot and lost few.   But the nation’s pride has been wounded.  When I mentioned to Carlos Manuel that at least we took the silver, he responded indignantly saying, “That doesn’t mean anything, what values is the gold.”

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One thought on “What Gold Means to Cuba in Baseball

  • Very, very good article! (I included a link to the article in my post yesterday at Cuba Journal).

    I agree with the fan who said that they should have sent the Habana team. They were the legitimate champions of El Beisbol Cubano.

    I admire Pedro Luis Lazo, but his prime time is past. Give newer players a chance.

    Cuba should send the players who have proven themselves, rather than send those who represent “political correctness.”

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