When I began to watch baseball, some 20 years ago, there were in Cuba baseball teams which were fantastic, with sublime quality. The Havana’s Industriales, the Vegueros of Pinar del Rio, the Henequeneros from Matanzas, the Villa Clara’s oranges, or the red and black of Santiago de Cuba, all of them invited you to fall in love with their essences due to the mystic exuded by their histories.
However, today these teams look like inert zombies or shadows living of the urban legends of the past which accommodate emerging limited level squads such as Ciego de Avila´s Tigers, Sancti Spiritus´s Roosters, Las Tunas´ Loggers or the Elephants from Cienfuegos.
At present, the biggest disaster of all is Santiago de Cuba. A team that became invincible in the late 1990s and at the beginning of this century, with an irreverent line-up led by the stars Orestes Kindelan (Cuban top slugger with 487 home-run), Antonio Pacheco (most complete second base of Cuban baseball), Gabriel Pierre or Fausto Alvarez, and an effective pitching staff, led by the speedy right-hander Norge Luis Vera, an illustrious, extraordinary, superhuman pitcher.
But there is nothing left from that bombast. There are not pieces from La aplanadora (The Leveler) as they were known. Santiago Santiago is no longer THAT Santiago. From being a ‘top’ team of Cuban baseball they turned into its Cinderella. They have only 4 or 5 quality players from an extensive list of 32; right now I could only mention Alexei Bell, and prospects Alaín Dela and Luis Yander La O. The magic of Santiago ran out and neither the illusionist David Copperfield could revive it.
It´s been two seasons since they last made it to the play-offs, something unusual for such a powerful club, and everything indicates they won´t qualify this season either, while being on the bottom of standings with only five wins in 21 games. Three years without playoffs are too many for Santiago.
This season´s game parameters are chaotic. They are third from the bottom of the table in pitching ERA (its pitching staff is second with less strikeouts), and twelfth in its former strength, hitting, with anemic batting average of .257 and only 9 homers in 700 at bats (1 for 75), and just two batters with averages over .300.
The factors of this debacle are various, though by no means unique to this team. You can mention the poor work with the lower categories, the use of limited and little current training systems, the defections of athletes, improvised manager changes, and retirement of some veterans like ex-catcher Rolando Merino and the aforementioned Vera.
Right now, the million dollar question is how to revive this baseball equipment, which won seven Cuban Championships in 1980, 1989, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2007 and 2008. I imagine it must be reflected in the style of the Shaolin Temple to find serious answers for a coherent development.