The US press loves titillating stories of sensational collapses and dramatic reversals of fortunes. After ignoring decades of Cuban dominance in world tournament play, the stateside baseball press has been quick the past few days to headlines like “Cuba’s rapid fall in international baseball prominence.”
The second edition of the World Baseball Classic has been a huge success on the playing field while an overall disappointment in the half-vacant grandstands. All the signals are that the WBC has turned on the Japanese and Cuban fans, above all others.
Once again the always potent Cuban national team finds itself in dire straits and in danger of a long-avoided mortal blow to its increasingly fabulous international tournament record winning streak. That intact record has now stretched to a mind-bending fifty straight major events.
Cuba’s emotional comeback victory over spunky Australia was one of the true “classics” of island baseball history. I have seen few games over the past dozen year’s of covering Cuban baseball and watching the national team abroad that packed more drama or carried more importance.
For the umpteenth time Freddie Cepeda did it once again on the international stage in Cuba’s opening game of the World Baseball Classic. He slammed stinging home runs to deep left and right fields on two of the first three pitches he saw from South Africa’s towering right-hander Barry Armitage, in the 8-1 win on Sunday. Cuba now faces Australia on Tuesday night.
When Cuba’s manager Higinio Velez was asked what his Team Cuba slogan would be this year (a rather obvious reference to his famous 2006 comments about Cuba having a team made of “hombres” not “nombres”) he quipped that this would be “a big surprise for all you media guys.”
Cuba’s top stars are still surrounded by an air of mystery. This is especially so for those whose baseball fare is restricted to the version of the sport marketed by the highly profitable corporation known as Major League Baseball.
“How many ballplayers do you think will abandon the Cuban team once they get to San Diego?” It is the favored starting point for just about every American, Canadian, European or Asian reporter who will be covering the Classic.