By Yasel Porto
This Wednesday’s press conference at Estadio Latinoamericano served to deal with several very important issues, after the signing of an agreement between the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) led by Italian Ricardo Fraccari, and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB), which recently had its President named, Juan Reinaldo Pérez Pardo, from Villa Clara.
Among the most important aspects that came up in the exchange between officials and national and foreign press was the one related to what could happen in the future inside the island. Specifically, things related to a fully professional circuit in which not only players with Cuban residency or citizenship would be involved.
It was one of the questions asked at the conference and the WBSC President’s answer was very clear about the idea of a league in which locals and foreigners would come together.
Fraccari welcomed the idea of a tournament with these characteristics and even considered it very positive that foreign athletes could play in such competition. The official media of the Sports Institute, Jit, amplified what the European director said.
It is worth saying that a few days ago the President of the FCB had publicly given the first indications of a future winter league in which “non-federated” players would take part. He even suggested that the idea was that many would choose to play in Cuba over other countries in the area.
The question on this topic at the conference was not a coincidence. What Fraccari said is the best indication that something is brewing for the future. Maybe not as soon as 2022, but by the following year something could materialize, and that would completely break the system implemented internally with the sport after 1961.
However, a fully professional circuit, which is not the case of the current National Series (many categorize it as semi-pro), would imply many complex components. Of course, the economic infrastructure is what weighs the most, but the inexperience of decades in the organization of a professional championship is another worrying factor that many point out.
However, the number of those who believe that the best internal solution to have a domestic tournament of a certain level is to implement a mechanism that was abandoned 61 years ago.
Cuba was the country with the second best professional league in the world, which developed from the end of the 19th century until its last season in 1960-61. A year earlier, the presence of foreign players had been cut due to the worsening of relations with the United States.
Finally, INDER was created, the pro sport was abolished from the entire system of the Island, and in the case of baseball, the powerful four-club winter competition was replaced by the Amateur National Series. All individual and collective ties with the Major Leagues were also severed, the Caribbean Series was discontinued and the Cuban Sugar Kings franchise disappeared from Havana, and ultimately the Minor Leagues.
After many years of criticism of professionalism, Cuba started taking steps to return to the era before absolute amateurism. In the nineties, players were inserted in semi-pro leagues in Colombia, Nicaragua and Japan, and then came the contract of Omar Linares with the Dragons in the Nippon Professional Baseball. It would not be until 2013 that the definitive opening officially came to sign in almost all quality circuits except for Korea, Chinese Taipei and the Major Leagues.
Later, the negotiation of an agreement with the MLB began, which went well shortly after being finalized at the end of 2018, and internally the National Series was modifying its payment system until it was one step away from the professional category. Charging for playing sports and establishing pay levels based on prominence, including cash prizes, are examples of the transformation that the main sporting event at the national level was adopting.
To take the last step, which has even been demanded by entities such as the Caribbean Professional Confederation to become a full member of the Caribbean classics, it is necessary to meet a series of requirements whose complexity is what keeps many specialists and fans skeptical. Hence, this could even be a topic to delve into at another time, touching on the pros and cons existing within a Cuba that has nothing to do with that of the professional stage, and in which every day many of its fundamental problems are worsening.