They can’t sleep easy at night. The millionaire salaries that they pay the ballplayers in the Big Leagues of the United States give the Cuban players a migraine. It’s no small wonder.
Every time a newspaper from the other side of the pond falls in their hands, or they watch it through Florida TV Channels, they see the Angel’s great hitter, Kendry Morales, who had a dream career, or when they see that the lefty Aroldis Chapman pitching 100 miles per hour signed six seasons with the Cincinnati Reds for 30.25 millions dollars (he will make a minimum of 5 millions dollars per season). It is inevitable that the young local baseball stars like Aramis Mendez sighs to play one day in the big arena.
The drip drip drip of desertions from the national sports increases. When in 1991 the right handed pitcher René Arocha from the Havana town of Regla, from the other side of the bay, opened the spigot of baseball players that preferred to play as professionals and manage their money without the inference of the State, since then the number grows year by year
A little more than 300 baseball players have left the country. At the first opportunity, however it might be, by abandoning the team in the middle of a game, or throwing themselves onto the sea in any floating object. They want to leave behind their modest lives of playing the whole year just to get the salary of a simple worker.
In Cuba a baseball player plays in the national classics, he does not work, and he competes the whole year like his counterparts, the professionals, do. When he goes to the pay window he collects super modest salary. Noelvis Rodríguez, a shortstop with good hands and a hot batting average, makes 278 Cuban pesos a month (around 12 dollars) as an exterminator even though he has never done this job before.
It is an old trick of the countries with totalitarian societies. They say that the athletes are amateurs, but actually, since infancy they are groomed as sportsmen of high efficiency. Since the now-extinct USSR appeared in the sports arena, back in 1952 in the Olympic games of Helsinki. The hierarchy of the communist states was eager to obtain great results in the sport arena to be able to show the superiority of the socialist system over undesirable and wild capitalism.
In all these nations, including Cuba, they could go without butter and beef but they will have plenty of Olympic winners; since an early age, their athletic abilities are manufactured like sausages and polished in the sporting schools.
In the quest for Olympic glory, they even practice dirty tricks. The biggest cheaters were the East Germans. To a swimmer like Cornelia Ender or an arrogant runner like Marita Koch, they were stuffed with forbidden substances to achieve results that border science fiction.
On the Island they also resorted to doping, although not with the same intensity as the East European athletes who had shining scores, like the disk thrower Luis Mariano Delis, or the weight lifter Daniel Núñez, they incurred in the use of forbidden substances to place themselves among the best of the world
The main sports of all times in Cuba are boxing and baseball. Before 1959 baseball players, the size of Adolfo Luque, Orestes Miñoso and Martin Dihigo, and pugilist like Kid Chocolate.
After the arrival of the bearded ones, sport was diversified, and they were great winners, like Las Morenas del Caribe in volleyball, track and field athletes, headed by the phenomenal runner of the 400 and 800 meters Alberto Juantorena, double Olympic champion in Montreal in 1976.
But the unexhaustible quarry was always in baseball and boxing. In the first years of the Revolution, the athletes who ran away from their Country to make money and compete for whichever country would take them were few. After 1991 when René Arocha started the stampede, the exodus of boxers and baseball players has increased
Mediocre athletes do not leave, no way. They want to make juicy salaries, Olympic boxing champions like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Yan Bartelemí, and Odlanier Solís. Baseball players the caliber of the brothers Liván Hernández, José Ariel Contreras, Kendry Morales, Dayán Viciedo and Aroldis Chapman.
That is the reason why young talents like Noelvis Rodríguez watch mesmerized from home at the spectacular plays of their idols. If one day they make it to the Major Leagues, they also expect six figure salaries, and to be able to rescue their relatives out of their poverty. The government of the Castro brothers maintains a sterile struggle with its athletes.
The Castros plead that they compete in the name of honor and the love of the motherland. That money is not important but the love of their compatriots. Baseball stars like Kendry Morales and Aroldis Chapman got tired of hearing the string of patriotic rhetoric, while living in their humble concrete shacks
Their meager salaries disgust many Cuban baseball players. A long time ago, they glanced to the north. They wait for the opportunity to escape from the Island and make their dreams come true.
By the request of those interviewed, the names has been changed.
Translated by: Mari Mesa