By Reynaldo Cruz
During the second game of the Friendly Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban National Team, played in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Americans were impressed by a small shortstop who baffled the audience with a 4 for 5 performance that included four runs, two triples, and a pair of RBIs. His name was Danel Castro, and few suspected that 23 years later he would become the all-time hits leader in Cuban baseball.
Undeterred by having very few opportunities on the Cuban National Team, in part due to the presence of very good defenders at the position like Germán Mesa and Eduardo Paret, Danel remained in Cuba, and in baseball, getting his uniform dirty for Las Tunas and other teams he reinforced during the new system allowing players from eliminated teams to strengthen the rosters of those still in contention. His diminutive size was never a problem for him to hit for power, and like fine wine, his clutch performance was a given, even to this date.
With the decreasing quality of the Cuban tournaments, prompted mainly by the constant exodus of players and the lack of motivation of most of those who remain in the island, Castro has seemed to be performing at the same level, hitting over .300 for the last four years of his career, which started in the 1993-94 campaign. However, this cannot be seen as a reason to diminish his quality as a player: if it is true that with a more serious tournament he might not have been able to put up these numbers, it is also worth noting that he has been outplaying many who are over 20 years younger and have better physique than him.
As a testament of his longevity, the Las Tunas star could not perform better in the grand stage: his 2,378th hit, with which he tied Enrique Díaz for the top of the all-time list last November 23, was a homer; refusing to let thigs stay even for for the next game, Danel dethroned the Centro Habana speedster with an inside-the-park homerun for his number 2,379. This, in a way, was a wink to all of those who supported him in Las Tunas and the rest of Cuba.
Although he had announced his retirement to be after he became number one, it is very likely that he suits up for Las Tunas next year. After all, his record-setting hit came wearing the jersey of Centrales in the recently installed Elite League, following controversy when he was not called for the roster of Agricultores, the team he should have played for regionally.
Unlike Major League Baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball and others, Cuban National Series count all the statistics of players in all tournaments played in national territory. This includes Series Selectivas, Super Selectivas, Copa Revolución, Superligas and now the Serie Élite. Postseason numbers are also taken into account.