Cuban Baseball Defections Could Increase / Iván García

Photo: Aroldis Chapman, Cuban pitcher who has already broken records in the Cincinnati Reds.

A storm is coming to the national sport in Cuba. In the last session of the monotone parliament in December, against all odds, the government maintained its strategy of not allowing ball players and other athletes to compete in foreign leagues.

Since 1991, more than 350 ball players have fled the island. By maintaining the absurd policy of not allowing baseball players to contract with foreign clubs, in a few years the figures could double.

Not only would ball players jump at the chance to sign contracts. Boxers would bet on winning money on professional tours in the U.S. or Europe. Volleyball players would look greedily at the prestigious Italian league.

Track and field athletes would try to become Spanish citizens, Czechs or even Sudanese (no wonder: the Cuban triple jumper, Yamilé Aldama, competes for Sudan), to be able to enjoy the money they earn in athletic clubs.

Even players of handball or basketball, not big sports in Cuba, would give a sideways glance at the market for these disciplines in the Greek and Iberian circuits, and, of course, the fabulous NBA.

The sports myopia of the Cuban leaders is colossal. Their position is childish and capricious. In a country where you need state permission to travel, there are institutions like the Ministry of Culture, which for over a decade has freely permitted intellectuals and artists to contract for work in other nations.

This has not stopped the exodus from this sector, but it turns out to be an option for talented artists, who can sign contracts and earn enough hard currency to permit them to live comfortably on an island of extreme poverty. An example is the actor Jorge Perogurría.

However, in sports, they don’t want the latch to be opened. So the athletes, especially baseball players, jump the pond and enter the Major Leagues by the back door.

Cuban baseball, moreover, is in its lowest hour. Quality has taken a dive. Everyone realizes this. Official journalists and retired stars agree that the baseball that is played now in Cuba is that of the “jungle” (low quality).

The journalist Gilberto Dihigo, living in Florida, son of the illustrious Martin Dihigo, the first Cuban player who entered the Hall of Fame in New York, is convinced that Cuban baseball is in crisis.

The repercussions from these bad moments in baseball are reflected in newspapers and blogs published in Miami, home to around 800,000 Cubans, who follow this sport in “the green crocodile” with interest. And the specialists don’t exaggerate. It’s true: the march of stars and young talent has diminished the quality of Cuban baseball.

The tactical and technical ideas of the current pitching and batting coaches are also outdated. The strategies of the managers show shocking gaps in the subject of baseball. Nor do referees escape from this decline. Their reduced zone of calling strikes is one of the factors in a brutal batter clobbering a defenseless pitcher without pity. Seventy percent of National League pitchers are on the verge of tears.

It’s terribly out of control, with an average number of bases walked that is childish, an average speed no greater than 84 miles per hour – in a baseball that deserves respect, pitchers should reach 90 miles per hour – and a reduced repertoire that includes only two pitches, fast and curve balls.

Bad things follow. The swing technique of many hitters is from the middle of the twentieth century. The players’ gloves are ripped. And the numbers don’t lie. The defense in the current season is 967. In a decent league, fielding is around 980.

Despite the shortages that hinder the main pastime of Cubans, baseball is still the biggest show in the country. And its players, with their natural talent, are candy for the scouts.

It’s true that to reach the highest level they have to overcome the deficiencies. But the promising young on the playground are losing the dream of the million-dollar salaries they pay in the U.S. Major Leagues. They know that the sooner they leave, the better the chances of someday playing the best baseball in the world.

In contrast to expectations – it was rumored that the government would make changes in its sports policy – General Raul Castro dropped the ball, and the illusion that Cuba would allow the free recruitment of athletes went up in smoke. A response to the unrest prevailing in Creole baseball could be the increased exodus of ball players. From time to time.

Translated by Regina Anavy