All baseball fans were shaken when the roster of the national team to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic was released. In a country where everybody is an expert, even from early age, the debates heated the atmosphere, already warm in this “winter”.
The Cuban team, though it resembles those from the last five years, exhibits a new face. A sudden change of course, at a time when it was mandatory to work on problems, not to redefine them, when moderation was wise, manager Victor Mesa amazed with his selection. The result: a discouraging roster, plain in sports terms, not to say decaying. A team that is not even the shadow of those who live in the memory of fans from the sands of time.
The manager deprived the “classic lineup” of the services of Ariel Pestano, today’s, and maybe in the whole history of National Series, top catcher, which reduced choices of an already battered position with the recent suspensions of Yenier Bello and Yosvani Alarcón.
He enrolled second call players for important positions. Some of them are still too green, others show questionable quality instead of others who have proved themselves already, capable of making the team a more functional and competitive machinery.
An excessive amount of outfielders took space in the roster meant for infielders, despite the evident lack of quality of the chosen ones, and the need to develop good infielders.
And the pitching staff opens brings more questions than answers, from any angle, especially considering that the ones he called don’t have the variety of pitches, the mentality and the working routine that has characterized this game worldwide during the last decades, where hurlers play specific functions depending on the situation.
This is a rough profile of the Team, and what remains to be seen is if the teamwork of each of the 28 players will be enough to fulfill the task imposed on them of redeeming Cuban baseball, to give it back the victories of the past, leave an imprint in the Third World Classic, to match the performance of the first tournament of this kind, held in 2006.
On this regard, just to be clear, I feel compelled to say, because I believe it, that there is not enough material in the national baseball to have a solid team, with a deep bullpen and mighty lineup, even if we include pitcher Yadier Pedroso, change Danni Betancourt and Vicyhoandri Odelín, bring back Pestano, and change the outfielders-infielders rate.
The reason I am saying this is because we are not even considering calling big leaguers like Gio González, Aroldis Chapman and José Ariel Contreras, Yohenis Céspedes, Alexei Ramírez, Kendry Morales and Raúl Ibáñez, or any other of the 30 Cubans who played this past season in the American Major Leagues.
So, the point, as I see it, is to see if we finally will witness the rebirth of the national team, and if it is capable to show in March why it leads the current world ranking.
And my answer, since I am forced to voice my opinion after writing these lines is unsteady, but is based on the fact that the natural talent of Cubans to play baseball remains intact. Noone, or better yet, almost nobody doubts it.
The fact is that Cuban baseball, for many reasons (defections, migrations and the current economic situation, among others) has lost quality, compared to other times in history.
However, March is again an unfit date to measure strengths in even conditions (the MLB finishes its pre-season, other leagues already finished their tournaments or are in the ending part of them) and the Classic, till proven otherwise, has only been good as an attempt to popularize the sport, and as a showcase for younger players to look for contracts in professional baseball, but it hasn’t been a good measuring tool of quality.
As you know, aptitude is important in every sport, but in baseball, especially in short events, circumstances and emotions can be defining at the end. Also, if we have on our side the mystic, the sacrifice and the bravery our great feats in the sport were made of.
If all these element converge, along the earnest commitment Cuba makes for this Classic, might boost its performance. That is why I hesitate when some people ask me for a forecast. I mean, if Cuba finishes among the top four, considering the quality of the national series, will be an undeserved gift, and in case it gets eliminated in the first stage, it will be an out of proportion punishment.