EFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Carlos Espinosa, Havana, 9 February 2023 — The Agricultores, Cuba’s card in the Caribbean Series, ended their participation in last place this Wednesday and with the memory of the 20-3 beating against Venezuela, leaving in question the current level of a historic country in this sport.
The plummet of the ninth, led by veteran Carlos Martí, has stunned fans and specialists alike. However, for not a few it was the consummation of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“(The result) was expected, but perhaps not its magnitude. But it was certainly expected. It is the result of many years of bad work,” said journalist Daniel de Malas, CEO of the specialized media outlet Swing Completo, in an interview with EFE.
The Agricultores team was the product of an experiment that the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) launched last year: the Elite League, a winter tournament that brought together the best players from the National Series and merged teams from different provinces.
The championship failed to connect with the fans and the images of empty stadiums were a constant, with the honorable exception of the finals.
Despite being the champion team of a league that, in theory, has a better level than the local tournament, Agricultores only managed one victory in their seven games: 3-1 against Curaçao.
Then they lost 3-1 to the Dominican Republic; 20-3 with Venezuela; 6-5 with Mexico; 5-4 with Colombia; 4-3 with Puerto Rico and 10-4 with Panama.
The role of the team unleashed introspection among the experts and left a question in the air: what does it say about the level of baseball in Cuba that the winning team of an elite tournament does not find any bandwidth in the Caribbean Series?
To the journalist Alejandro Rodríguez Cuervo, a sports presenter on state television, the Elite League is a good idea but it needs to be reformed.
“The Cuban player only plays with Cubans, and very few (have) experience abroad (…) That (Elite) league needs to be addressed in some way so that it can grow economically, including inserting players from various latitudes who can give it much more quality,” he points out in a telephone interview with EFE.
However, De Malas goes further on this point and insists that there is a fundamental problem – above all, a systemic one – in the organization. “There is a lot of politics. (This) is a political problem, (the FCB) does not have the power to make decisions,” he believes.
Swing Completo’s CEO recalled that, unlike the other leagues in the Caribbean Series, the Cuban one is not 100% professional and depends directly on the Government.
“There have been many years of ostracism, of refusing to open up to the world. The FCB needs to be independent and really professionalize,” he adds.
Rodríguez Cuervo does not entirely agree on this point and defends that Cuban baseball players are professionals – since they receive a salary for their work – although he admits that the Elite should become even more professional with players from abroad.
According to Swing Completo, the island players of the Elite League receive a monthly salary of about 3,500 Cuban pesos (about 28 dollars, at the official exchange rate).
Despite its structural problems, Cuba won the 2015 Caribbean Series. Pinar del Río defeated the Tomateros de Culiacán, one of the most iconic teams in Mexico, in the final.
But for the journalist Francys Romero, author of the reference book The Dream and the Reality. Histories of the Emigration of Cuban Baseball (1960-2018), the title can be explained with a bit of context.
The year 2015, Romero recalls in an interview with EFE, was the “prelude to what began to be a systemic exodus of players.” In that year alone, 200 Cuban baseball players emigrated, according to his records.
“The level of the league dropped completely,” he says. “From 2014 to 2016 the teams (the Cubans in the Caribbean Series) were a dream team compared to the ones now,” he stresses.
Since 2017, an average of 80 to 100 Cuban baseball players have left the island to pursue their dream of playing in the US Major Leagues and earn a much higher salary.
In fact, in 2016 Yuli Gurriel – star of the Houston Astros, MLB champions – deserted along with his brother Lourdes when they were concentrating on a Caribbean Series.
The FCB bet this year is the World Classic, which starts in March. Cuba will have three active players in the MLB for the first time. Although the illusions within the organization are high, De Malas and Romero have doubts that the team can go far in the competition.
“I have my doubts that they can get past the first phase,” says De Malas.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.