Abraham Jiménez Enoa

Abraham Jiménez Enoa

Photo by Alejandro Ulloa

The NBA and Shaquille O’Neill dribble in Cuba

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is back in Cuba. A year and several months after its first visit to the island (for the occasion of which Mutombo and Steve Nash headed up the committee), the American entity has returned along with Shaquille O’Neal to hold instructive clinics with children and young Cuban players. A week after the curtain fell on the NBA’s season in the USA the State Department made the communique in which is announced the arrival of O’Neal in Havana and his stay of three days official. The visit had only been announced by President Barack Obama months before. Photo by Alejandro Ulloa The first of these clinics that Shaquille O’Neal will give in Cuba took place in the court on 23 and B in Vedado. On the morning of that Sunday the ex-pivot that shone with Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers (three champion’s rings) and Miami Heat (one ring), coached the members of male and female teams of the children’s leagues of Havana, for an hour. Under a potent sun, Shaq and Kaleb Canales – current managing assistant of the Dallas Mavericks team did not stop giving instructions to the players. First,...

Photo: Eduardo Rodriguez

Diana Fuentes, the face behind the voice

Diana Fuentes does not strain her voice. She doesn’t stammer when she speaks. She doesn’t wear earrings or any type of makeup, she doesn’t use lipstick and if she does it’s the same color as her lips. Her face doesn’t need it; her face is so sublime that any touching up would ruin it. Diana Fuentes is slim. Much slimmer than what people imagine. And that slimness fits perfectly well with her short and simple dress; a red dress that leaves her back bare, and reveals from start to end her very white legs standing on wood platform shoes that martially correct her posture. Diana Fuentes has black hair that falls over her shoulders without completely covering them. She also has two tattoos. The one on her right hand is a bunch of aurora flowers, white flowers, flowers to pay tribute to her grandmother Aurora Fernández. The one on her left hand is a tiny star that moves with her pulse, with the disparate circulation of her bluish veins; it is not by chance that it is there: her brother has an identical one, on top of the blood, on the left side, the side of the heart. Diana Fuentes...

Photo: mlb.com

Former MLB pitcher El Duque Hernandez will visit Cuba

In less than a month, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, a living legend of Cuban baseball, will return to Cuba for the first time since he left the country to join the MLB. Hernandez, who went from playing for Havana’s Industriales to play for the NY Yankees, the White Sox, and then the Mets, is also one of the players that Cubans miss the most. The news has been circling around the internet like dynamite. Hernandez is supposed to travel in the company of his brother, Livan Hernandez, and Rey Ordonez, the short stop king. The three former MLB players are travelling to Cuba to take part in a golf charitable event in Varadero, starting on May 6. The funds raised will be donated to The Golden Age Center for Disable and Mentally Ill People in Havana. “Cuba has always been and will be dear to my heart,” said Orlando Ordonez, who hasn’t visited Cuba since he left the country 19 years ago. “I’ve never forgotten my people, because I know very well where I’m coming from. I can’t wait to see my people again, meet them in the streets, the beach, a park, or just walking down the Malecon.” OnCuba...

The Gourriel brothers say goodbye to Cuba

In Cuba, we came to think that Yulieski Gourriel would never leave the country: that after every trip he would come back home, and that if he left at some point - like when he signed that agreement with Japan's DeNa BayStar - it would be for a short time only. The announcement that Yulieski and his younger brother Lourdes Jr. abandoned the Cuban delegation at the end of the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic came therefore as a big surprise for most people in Cuba. Over the last few months, Yulieski had been eyeing the MLB: his performance had reached its top in the national series and many thought that he would be the first player based in Cuba to be legally hired by the MLB, as part of a program that would have eliminated the need for Cuban players to go live in a third country in order to get into the MLB. He could have been key in an agreement between the MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) that could have opened the doors of the MLB to other Cuban players. In December 2015, the visit of an MLB delegation to Cuba was perceived as...

MLB's goodwill tour of Cuba / Photo: Roberto Ruiz

Excited crowd welcomes MLB players at Havana Stadium

Cuban baseball fans gathered at the Latinoamericano Stadium in Havana to watch the first clinic held by the MLB goodwill mission to Cuba. The main attraction of the session for most of them was the opportunity to see four Cuban players who had left the country years before - many of them illegally - to get a chance to play in the MLB. This is the first time athletes in that situation are officially welcomed by Cuban sports officials, in the context of renewed relations between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban players are José D. Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Bryan Peña (Cincinnati Reds) and Yasiel Puig (L.A. Dodgers). Other MLB starts in the delegation, such as Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Clayton Kershaw were largely overlooked by the excited crowd that attended the stadium to see their old idols back in the field. Yasiel Puig told OnCuba: “This was not my old team’s stadium, but it’s the biggest stadium in Cuba, and believe me, I never thought I would set foot here again, or that I’d be welcomed by Cuban fans this way. I’m very excited. This is what to be in one’s...

Yasiel Puig. Photo: Roberto Ruiz

Expat baseball players travel to Cuba as part of MLB delegation

Expatriate MLB baseball players José D. Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Bryan Peña (Cincinnati Reds) and Yasiel Puig (L.A. Dodgers) travelled to Cuba as part of a Goodwill trip organized by their organization. The delegation arrived in Havana only two days before the first anniversary of the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, announced on December 17, 2014. The group is headed by Joe Torres, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, and Dave Winfield, special assistant to the executive director of the MLB Players Association. It also includes stars such as Nelson Cruz and Clayton Kershaw. The goal of the 3-day trip is to continue to give steps towards reaching agreements that allow for a normalization of relations with the island. José Dariel Abreu saying hi to the OnCuba team / Photo: Roberto Ruiz Organized with the agreement of both sides, the trip confirms that both parties are interested in working for a future understanding under which Cuban baseball players can join the MLB. For the moment, any negotiation of this kind has to be subject to a special licence granted by OFAC, due to the regulations imposed by the U.S. embargo. [caption...

Abreu and Ramirez could travel to Cuba as part of MLB delegation

An MLB delegation will travel to Cuba to negotiate agreements with the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB). The trip marks the end of a process that started with conversations behind closed doors, followed by statements by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, which were then publically addressed by FCB officials and officials from the Cuban Institute of Sports and Recreation (INDER). After that, it was announced that a Minor League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles will play in Cuba in 2016, and that the abovementioned trip would be taking place from December 15 to 17. The goal of the visit is to show the MLB’s willingness to give their support to Cuban baseball, and reach concrete agreements that allow Cuban baseball players living in Cuba to join the MLB. The delegation is headed by Joe Torres, MLB's Chief Baseball Officer, and Dave Winfield, special assistant to the executive director of the MLB Players Association. It also includes stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Clayton Kershaw. Some media outlets have reported that travelling with the group will be MLB players of Cuban origin such as Jose D. Abreu and Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Bryan Peña (Cincinnati Reds) and Yasiel Puig (L.A....

Penn State Nittany Lions Play Friendly Games in Cuba

The baseball team of Pennsylvania State University travelled to Cuba to play friendly games with local teams, attending an invitation from the Center for Studies on Jose Marti. The delegation’s press officer Judith Clyne spoke to OnCuba prior to the first game against Industriales – Havana’s team – at the Latinoamericano Stadium: “We are very grateful for this invitation, and for the way Cubans have welcomed us. We are not here just to play baseball; we are here to get to know Cuba and its people. We know our visit can help to bring our countries closer and build a better relation in the future.” The game vs Industriales was scheduled for Sunday, but it had to be rescheduled due to the rain. “The cancellation of the game put some pressure on the program of activities we had, but we expect to be able to do everything we had planned for,” said Clyne. The students’ program of activities includes visits to places of cultural relevance in Havana, as well as lectures and seminars in different universities in the western part of the country. They lost their first game against Industriales, 2 to 1. It was a tough game, where the...

Photo: Ricardo López Hevia

Cuba says good bye to Premier 12

The 2015 WBSC Premier12 international baseball championship is over for Cuba. Losing against South Korea has left the Cuban team out of the competition for medals. The result had been predicted by many, given the current state of this sport on the island. The Cubans saw setback after setback the minute they went out to the filed. It was agony, inning after inning. They looked hopeless before their rivals, and couldn't put up a fight. Now they come back home knowing that things have taken a radical turn: Cuban baseball is not what it used to be. Attributing these results to bad decisions made by Victor Mesa, the manager of the team, or to the performance of the pitchers, or to the weak defence exhibited by the national team would be unfair and reckless. We all know that, unfortunately, this is part of a bigger problem, one linked to the way in which baseball officials and sports officials understand and manage baseball in Cuba. That the Cuban team did its best in each and every game in this championship and still lost shows that the players and the manager are not to blame. And it also shows that, if we...

Photo:mlb.com

Cuba and the Major Leagues

Cuba and Major League Baseball (MLB) would like to return to their old embrace. They sat down at the table to seek reconciliation, a dialogue to finally bring them closer after more than half a century apart. While no concrete agreements exist yet, the negotiations are a big step forward for both. The positive atmosphere left by the events of last Dec. 17th, with the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, has been the driving force behind efforts between the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Major League Baseball Players Association to establish links that will allow Cuban players to legally strut their stuff as part of the world’s best baseball. “We’re in talks with them to develop ties and a final agreement that will allow our players to play at the highest level. But it’s not easy to concretize all of this, because we are demanding that to achieve this objective, the Cubans should not have to give up their nationality, which is what is happening at this time,” said Heriberto Suárez, Cuba’s national baseball commissioner. Since the thaw in relations between the two countries, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, has said he is very optimistic about...

Photo: ESPN

Cuban Baseball Players Authorized to Play in Professional Caribbean Leagues

While November rolls around and the much-awaited continuation of talks between the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) near, Cuban players living on the island have received extraordinary news: the MLB has issued a communiqué announcing that Cubans are now free to join teams of the Caribbean Professional Baseball Confederation (CBPC). This way, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico will be entitled to secure the services of Cuban players during the winter season. Puerto Rico’s league is not included on the list, as the country is part of US territory and is subject to embargo regulations. This modification is part of a package of new regulations announced by the US Department of the Treasury and Trade. Giovanni Hernandez, director of international operations for the Major Leagues, told the press that: “After consulting with our lawyers, the MLB has no objections to having Cuban nationals or Cuban-born players living in Cuba play at leagues that are members of the CBPC. If Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela want to hire players from Cuba, they have this right and it will not affect the use of our players. They simply cannot play in Puerto Rico, as it is a...

Yasiel Puig and Alexander Guerrero

More Cubans in MLB Team Ever

For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, six Cubans are playing for the same team. The L.A. Dodgers have found a gold mine in Cuba and now they want to exploit it. Yasiel Puig was the first discovery, and the reason why the Dodgers’ recruiters continued to keep an eye on the Cuban national league. The next hires were Erisbel Arruebarrena (25 million), Alexander Guerrero (28 million), Pablo Millan Fernandez (8 million), and Hector Olivera (62.5 million). Yasmani Grandal, a Cuban-American who started his career playing college baseball for the University of Miami, was also added to the team. “The more I think about it, the more unbelievable this seems to me,” Grandal told OnCuba via email, “This was unheard of in the MLB: never before had so many Cubans been on the same team. It’s a shame that not all of us are in the main team, that some are still playing in the affiliate teams, fighting for the right to a promotion. It would be great if someday all of us could be on that team.” Grandal, who plays as catcher for the Dodgers, is probably living his best years in the MLB. Ever...

Going to Xtremes

The “Skate Park” as Cubans call it –originally in English because a Spanish name would not sound as “skateboardingly worthy”– is a meeting point for extreme sports fans in Havana. Located behind a hospital, the place resembles the ruins of an amphitheatre from the times of the Roman Empire, with its rusted gates, its graffiti-covered ramps, and the stillness of a cemetery. Such run-down places are sometimes “taken” by action sports lovers, and turned into practice or exhibition grounds. It’s hard to tell when Cubans started to take a liking for “the extreme,” but the age of Che Alejandro Pando, a veteran skateboarder who is now 42, could help us establish the beginnings at around 30 years ago. Pando’s time to brag about complicated skate tricks in mid-air has past. He had to quit, much to his discontent, due to numerous injures in both ankles and knees. He now acts as general coordinator for this sport in Cuba. “This is more than a sport, it’s a way of life, a sub-culture,” he tells us at his tattoo parlour. “It’s hard for people to understand that what we do is considered a sport, mostly because of our physical appearance. Lip and...

NBA’s First Day in Cuba

The NBA delegation that arrived early on Thursday in Cuba didn’t take a break and went directly to interact with local basketball players. The first training camp scheduled in this four-day visit of the NBA to Cuba was conducted at the Manuel Fajardo Higher Institute of Physical Education, in Havana. These clinics are part of the NBA’s Basketball without Borders program, which has reached more than 220 countries. “We’ve taken the program to countries that are much farther away, so why not Cuba?” said Dikembe Mutombo at a press conference held before this first training camp. “This is a historic visit. We are building a bridge between Cuba and the United States, and we want to thank those who have made this possible.” President of the Cuban Basketball Federation Ruperto Herrera praised the program and said this was a valuable idea that would undoubtedly contribute to the development of this sport in Cuba. Alberto Andrés García, regional director of the International Basketball Federation said that this first step should lead to future fruitful endeavours. On his part, Steve Nash, focused on assessing the quality of Cuban basketball and its prospects: “Cuba is renowned the world over for its athletes, and...

Ciego de Avila Wins Cuban National Baseball Series

Ciego de Avila’s Tigers won the Cuban National Baseball Series for the second time in history. They beat Isla de la Juventud’s Pirates in the best-of-seven final playoff of a highly contested series that went to the seventh game. Against all forecasts, the Pirates made it to a final playoff for the first time, and were hailed as the revelation team of Cuban baseball. They lost to the Tigers, however, who were superior during the series, thanks to superb performances of starters Ismel Jimenez and Yander Guevara. The contribution of their reinforcements from Villa Clara, like first baseman and cleanup hitter Ariel Borrero, outfielder Andy Zamora, and third baseman Yeniet Perez, proved decisive in the postseason. “This is a victory of the whole team, not the feat of an isolated star,” said Tiger’s couch Roger Machado shortly after the end of the game –a statement very similar to the one he made three years ago, when his team won the national series for the first time.

NBA celebrities will visit Cuba

Former players and other representatives of the National Basketball Association (NBA) will visit Cuba from April 23 to 26, announced Mark Tatum, deputy commissioner of this organization. With this trip, the NBA will become the first US professional sports organization to visit the island nation following the beginning in December 2014 of the process of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The list of distinguished visitors includes Steve Nash (recently inducted to the Hall of Fame) and Dikembe Mutombo, as well as former WNBA player Ticha Penicheiro, and coaches Quin Snyder (Utah), and James Borrego (Orlando). They will hold training clinics with the Cuban men’s and women’s national teams, and talented young players. "We've seen the bridges basketball can build between cultures. We hope to share the values of our sport with young Cubans and learn from each other through the common language of sports,” said Tatum. The visit has been organized as part of the NBA “Basketball without Borders” program. According to Tatum, the agreement was made with the help of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the directorate of the Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER by its Spanish acronym) and the Cuban Basketball Federation....

DeNA Bay Stars breaks contract with Yulieski Gourriel

The club Yokahoma DeNA Bay Stars of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) has just broken its contract with the Cuban baseball player Yulieski Gourriel Castillo. The rumor that had been gaining strength for days was made official on Thursday, April 2nd when Shigeru Takada , General Manager of the franchise, released a statement in which he declared the cancellation of the agreement between both parties. "Gourriel does not fully understand what a contract is. We were not sure when he was going to come. He said he wanted to play for Yokohama , but when he was entirely recovered from injuries . Contact was established and we agreed to terminate the contract. The Cuban government also accepted our decision, "said Takada few hours ago. The untimely event has its antecedents: Yulieski Gourriel and his brother Lourdes Jr. planned to join the DeNA once completing their foray into the National Series with Industriales. This date was marked on March 26 but the agreement was not met because the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB by its Spanish acronym) informed the Japanese organization that both players were injured and that they would arrive at Japanese soil until they were recovered from their wounds. So,...

The Pirates want to conquer another island

The Isle of Youth is on fire, drunk with much complacency. Its time has come; they spent much time embedded in the Wailing Wall, they always remained at a step of the top. Today they enjoy a great time, in a few days they will fight for the national crown. An event that has revolutionized that land, has upended it by so much euphoria and gibberish. In Nueva Gerona, La Fe, Argelia, La Demajagua, in all its towns, everything revolves around the Pirates, the filibuster ship commanded by Rodríguez Pantoja. "They have infected the people, well, at this height we do not know who infected whom, if the people to us or we to the people", former pitcher Gervasio Miguel told OnCuba by phone. "When you look at those committed players, their love by the jersey, their desire to make their people happy, you want to make them a monument" adds Gervasio, one of the famous baseball pitchers in the special municipality. The team has emerged as a phoenix. They were near the qualifying zone at the almost end of the regular season, but very few counted on them. They reached the finish line and took the place of the...

Foto: Tomada de Victoria de la Isla

Let’s talk about the Play Offs

Matanzas (2) vs Isla de la Juventud (3): Few imagined that at this stage of the playoffs, the flag of the Pirates of the island would fly firm, the ship would bear the marshland of the Giron Stadium and then in own port, would shake the bags of their opponents until they were naked, against strings, a heist from checkmate. After starting, of that first game when Matanzas trounced the islanders, the prediction that was imposed is more logical: the crocodiles in four or five games would send back home those of Gerona. Typical forecast of a postseason that flies and vanishes and is thrown down the drain. No delicacies. The series became a torment for the disciples of Victor Mesa, La Isla dropped the reins and began to struggle. They took the following games out of the freezer. One, two, three, in order to defy the inexperience of their players in this type of high voltage contests to the tricks of the rival´s seasoned manager. Three electrifying games that were decided in the aftermath, two of them did not stop to get into extra innings. The Cristóbal Labra was a boiler; a place where silence has no place and...

Another Cuban in LA

A few hours ago Hector Olivera became a Dodger, another Cuban who will wear the jersey of the legendary franchise in Los Angeles in the next MLB season. According to MLB.com, Olivera has reached an agreement with the Californian organization for an amount of US $ 62.5 million for six seasons. It seems that the Dodgers want to gain the services of any Cuban who wants to reach MLB. Now, Olivera will join several countrymen already active in the franchise. We are talking about Yasiel Puig, one of the stars of the team, as well as Erisbel Arruebarruena, Alexander Guerrero, Yasmany Grandal and Pablo Millán Fernández, pitcher recently signed for US $ 8 million. With Héctor Olivera´s contract, the dance of the millions for Cubans continues on MLB. By way of rankings, this figure ranks fourth historically, only being surpassed by the $ 72.5 million of Rusney Castillo with Boston, the $ 68.5 million that Pito Abreu received from the White Sox and the $ 68 million Arizona paid for Yasmany Tomas. In his showcases in the Dominican Republic last month in front of scouts from the vast majority of major league organizations, Olivera impressed above all things by his...

Blue guillotine

Lázaro Vargas´ Industriales wants to be swallowed by earth, being wrapped in the leaden silence that last night left and disappear in the breeze of Cerro municipality. The derailment was such that they ended up lying in the gutter with the mouth open. The Latinoamericano Stadium went from fuss to helplessness, from feast to funeral, from getting hoarse in the stands to look down and embed sight on a tile to avoid the tragic end. Too much punishment. Five games in a row were thrown down the drain. And the issue is not the slump, but the fact of being beaten at home, at their headquarters, matter of pride that their fans do not forgive. Head coach Vargas is already sought to climb him to the blue guillotine. The Isla de la Juventud Pirates took Havana and with the territory in their possession surrounded the mound of the legendary Latinoamericano ballpark and cheered and jumped and turned towards their fans that crossed by catamaran the Caribbean Sea and thanked their support at all times. Meanwhile, in the opposite dugout, Vargas remained in his little chair looking absorbed their celebration. His face was the same as always, that rueful face (we...

José Ángel García: “They can not do anything with strikeout”

José Ángel García speaks as a spear, as if coming from the bullpen to smother the fire in a decisive match. As if having a couple of men on bases and he has no other option than striking his rival out. He's lapidary in every sentence, without detours. He bites his inseparable piece of grass in his mouth and comes over me with his dry ball. "That is the mission of a reliever: striking out. You always come with troubled waters and the best option is to strike out, if they hit, you were not effective, the runners advance and can score, "says José Ángel on the phone, in the distance. A few days ago I dialed his cell phone number from a landline and the call only lasted three rings. I stammered what I had rehearsed as a preamble and he agreed to give some of his time from his room in a hotel of Artemisa, which name I forgot to ask. A day earlier, José Ángel had reached a thousand strikeouts in National Series, a feat for a closer, for a man who since joining the tournament has just put out fires, or who comes from the bullpen...

New York Cosmos team to Play in Havana

Since the World Cup in France 1938, Cuba had not been in the shutter of world soccer. Now it's back and next June 2, Havana people can see the Cosmos, when the New York soccer club, which roster includes Spanish Raúl González and Marcos Senna, to face in a friendly match the Cuban national team. The New York Cosmos belongs to the North American Soccer League (NASL) which is the lower division of the Major League Soccer (MLS) and they achieved worldwide fame in the seventies when its colors were defended by Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Johan Neeskens.   The Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer won the World Cup as player and coach. According to the official website ( http://www.nycosmos.com/) of the club, the squad will land in Havana next summer taking advantage of a break in the northern season and as part of the preparation of Cuba for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In this way, they will become the first professional team from the United States in stepping Cuban soil after the beginning of the process for restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries last December 17. Then we publish...

Cubans in spring trainings

The spring trainings in Major League Baseball (MLB) have their turbines on. The franchises have begun to train for the coming campaign. Recent acquisitions of the market and established figures have been reported to their respective training camps. The day by day, training, the work of rigor begins to undertake the assault to MLB. Some of the Cuban stars of the Big Show were optimistic in these early days of enlistment. One of the Cuban emblems, Cienfuegos´ José D. Abreu, has initiated his preparation. "This season I can not say I will have the same numbers, or better, I can only say that I will try to give my best every day to help the team to win," the slugger told MLB.com. José D. Abreu, rookie of the year last season in the American League, eager to get to the playoffs with the Chicago White Sox The American League Rookie of the Year in the last season, not content with his colossal stats, now aims to reach the postseason with the Chicago White Sox. "I'm trying to be in the best possible shape for the season, but not only for the first part. I want to...

A look at the Cuban National Baseball Series

The second phase of the 54th National Baseball Series heads to its end. Slightly more than 20 games remain for the qualifying stage to come to an end, a very short tour, which will last very few. And it is not yet clear what teams will be the animators of the playoffs. Matanzas and Granma seem already having got their tickets (although they have nothing guaranteed mathematically) but the other two seats to the playoffs are still in dispute. After the impasse by the Caribbean Series, the tournament has entered a kind of acute hipocondritis. Suffering day after day, that beyond the strong contention of the sides to qualify, have affected and caused several malfunctions to the event. A lot of injuries have flooded the squads that have seen many of their main players watching the games from the stands, indiscipline which have resulted in sanctions, players who have decided to leave their teams to go abroad (that is not news), the disenchantment of Pinar del Río with its head coach and a number of notable absences have weakened the team, and the news that Cepeda is already training in Japan are some items disturbing the regular fans of the...

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