When we still are several months away from the start in March 2013 of the Third World Baseball Classic, the Cuban national team thinks, raves and dreams of its nemesis: Japan, the undisputed winner in the first two editions.
It turns out that the Caribbean will compete in the "Asian group" during the first round of the tournament along with China, Chinese Taipei and Japan, which will start as top seeded and favourite to win this group, supported by the talents of its stars that play in the America’s Major League Baseball and by being the home-club in the impressive Tokyo Dome.
Cuba has lost to Japan in all three games in this kind of tournament in the two previous editions, the most painful of all in 2006 when they lost in the final against right-handed pitcher Daisuke "Dice-K" Matsuzaka, the leading star of that team and later of the Boston Red Sox that won the World Series in 2007.
A priori, the Cubans will have to beat both China and Chinese Taipei to clinch their berth in the second round, a task with a high degree of risk when you consider that the margin for error is zero.
But it would be crazy to rule out a possible victory against the Japanese, especially considering the Cuban team’s historical hierarchy, while not going through its best phase is always a challenging opponent, in case of setback, they sell their defeats very expensive.
Twelve teams are already qualified for this tournament: Australia, the Dominican Republic, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States, Venezuela, China, Cuba, and Japan. It is important to note that Taipei has not secured its ticket, but it is a matter of time only because in its qualifying group are three completely unknown baseball teams: Philippines, Thailand and New Zealand.
The other three teams that should qualify, to complete the official Third Classic 16 contestant format, according to all experts are Canada, Panama and South Africa, which start as favorite in their respective groups.
The name of the Cuba manager for this tournament is still a secret, but the leading candidates are the Pinar del Rio Jorge Fuentes- the one with the biggest amount of wins in Cuban baseball history and two-time Olympic champion, and Victor Mesa, undoubtedly the ablest men in these matters in the national scenario.
The backbone of the team will be made up of third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, outfielders Frederich Cepeda, Rusney Castillo, and Alfredo Despaigne, veteran catcher Ariel Pestano and the great shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, along the right-handed portentous Yadier Pedroso, by far the best pitcher in the country.
Except Arruebarruena and Castillo, two of the most important prospects of Cuban baseball, all the other aforementioned players gained experience in the previous editions of the Classic, especially Gourriel and Cepeda, members of the All-Star team in 2006 and 2009, respectively.
The tentative date for the debut of Cuba in the III World Baseball Classic is March 3 and apparently its opponent in that game will be nobody else but Japan. A chance to get even?