By PETER C. BJARKMAN*
HAVANA TIMES, February 1 – In one of the more stunning Cuban baseball developments of recent vintage, 17-year veteran and national team mainstay Ariel Pestano announced on national television that the 2008-2009 baseball season would definitely be his last.
The 34-year-old Villa Clara superstar was quick to clarify that he is still in top playing shape and also totally satisfied with this season’s personal performance. He also announced that he hopes to play on the national team at both the 2nd World Baseball Classic in March and the national team throughout the IBAF World Cup tournament in September, which he has now apparently decided will be his swan song event.
Pestano further elaborated that his main motivation in abruptly ending his active playing career is a strong desire to take a more central roll in the hands-on training of his teenaged son, a young catching prospect currently playing in the island’s provincial youth leagues.
The timing of Pestano’s announcement is shocking for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be the fact that he is currently enjoying a solid campaign with his rejuvenated Villa Clara team. The Orangemen presently sit atop the Eastern Division pennant race by a comfortable mid-season margin.
The clutch-hitting backstop currently stands among the league’s top ten in RBIs with 40, paces the circuit with 15 game-winning hits, and is batting .365 with runners in scoring position. While Pestano’s impact has always come primarily with his arm and glove rather than his bat, these offensive numbers hardly suggest any physical fall-off or drop in enthusiasm that might spur thoughts of retirement.
*Peter Bjarkman’s blog can be read at: http://bjarkmanlatinobaseball.mlblogs.com