By Reynaldo Cruz
The Alazanes de Granma, Cuba’s latest National Champion, finished the round robin of the Haarlem Baseball Week with a 0-5 ledger, signing the worst outing of any Cuban team ever, and failing to score runs repeatedly. Victimized by strong opponents like Netherlands, USA and Japan, and upset by Curacao and Italy, Carlos Marti’s disciples still stand a chance to play a game to finish off the cellar.
This, however, will not take Cuban fans out of humiliation. The emergence of teams from nations that choose to develop their game by all means necessary and leave politics away from the sport, has led to a state of disadvantage that becomes more and more evident with each tournament.
Blaming it on Granma or the fact that the team was “not properly reinforced” would be unfair and opportunistic. Granma was THE BEST team of the recently concluded National Series, and they were perfectly entitled to represent Cuba in the tournament, mainly because that was the team the organizers wanted.
Little did they know, however, that the level of the National Series has plummeted to incredible lows. Cuba’s political decision to have a team for each province has become one of the main obstacles for the growth of the quality of play, both in terms of economy and skill.
Pandora’s box was opened when several athletes started leaving the country in droves after the turn of the century. Little incentives, high levels of restrictions and limited freedoms took athletes from being highly praised to being unfairly and severely punished for stupid rules that were set by people who were never affected by them.
Olympic and World Champions were living in precarious situations, with no homes of their own, no personal means of transportation, and struggling to make ends meet, feed their families, and even solving the most elemental issues. The situation was not limited to baseball alone, it was (and still is) a generalized and systemic problem within Cuba.
Every decision to make things better took too long to be made and even longer to be implemented—that without mentioning how ineffectively they have been implemented—and athletes have decided that their prime is too short and fragile, so they better make the best out of it. Seeing how most stars from the past have struggled over the last years of their lives and have been forgotten by authorities has become a trigger for many of them.
However, the events of Haarlem had a different background. Once again, a Cuban national team has failed to hit effectively. One can use the fact that some of the players have left the island as a justification, but that is borderline stupidity: everyone knows that some of the Granma players that attended the Honkbalweek can defect tomorrow, make it to the Big Leagues and even excel there—it has happened in the past.
Now, the biggest rivals are not the USA, Japan or Chinese Taipei, as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Netherlands, Korea, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Israel, Germany (yes, Germany), Curacao (this year is not new) and Italy (yes, Italy too) have all vanquished Cuba in different tournaments, and have humiliated the second most storied baseball nation on the planet to levels never feared before.
Carlos Marti is a successful in Cuban baseball, and his methods—that are the methods of the vast majority of managers in Cuba—are effective in the National Series. However, baseball is like a battle: if you only know your soldiers, but ignore everything the rivals and the scenario, your chances of winning are very slim.
The Honkbalweek has rarely been an offensive tournament, only three homeruns have been hit in the current installment (one of them against Cuba, by Rogear Bernadina and another by USA’s Yohandry Morales, son of Cuban Andy Morales). So, trying to get long balls is not a very smart strategy, but nobody seemed to have told them that. Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg: the status of Cuban baseball is unsustainable, and the future seems darker every day. It has been downhill for the past 15 years, and prospects are they haven’t hit rock bottom just yet. The upcoming World Baseball Classic could make things worse.