HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 16.- Cuba’s First Division Baseball League opens its 2008-2009 season on November 29, when Santiago de Cuba, the defending champs, hosts runner-up Pinar del Rio.
Play will last into June instead of April this season with an interruption in late February so the national team short list can train for the 2nd World Baseball Classic (WBC) to take place March 8-23.
Baseball is part of Cuban culture since the mid-19th century and the national team’s success at international events is a question of pride for both the government and most of the population.
There are two kinds of fans on the island: The real fanatics that follow the games day by day and the others that don’t pay much attention until the playoffs. The first group is already buzzing with expectation.
Damage caused to several stadiums by hurricanes Gustav and Ike does not mean play won’t begin on time. However, due to electrical problems caused by the storms, the Isla de la Juventud team will play its initial home games during the day and work continues in Matanzas, Camaguey and La Habana province (which rings the capital) to get their lighting systems back operating. Granma will begin its season playing in the city of Manzanillo instead of its usual venue in Bayamo.
The 16 teams will once again play a 90-game regular season, followed by the regional quarterfinal and semifinal playoffs followed by the final championship series.
Considered the “mystery team” by several US sportswriters, Cuba finished second to Japan in the first WBC in 2006, ahead of the United States, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, all stacked with top salaried players from Major League Baseball.