Arizona’s pre-Olympic baseball and the latest tiger stripes

By José Antonio Michelena

El preolímpico de béisbol de Arizona

The very recent postponement of the pre-Olympic baseball tournament in Arizona, as a result of sports measures by the coronavirus, has put a note of suspense in the expectations of the countries involved, including Cuba.

Getting to participate in the next Olympic Games of 2020 is getting more and more uphill cuban baseball, which has two possibilities left, or one, depending on how it goes in the pre-Olympic, where the competition will be very tough.

The Cuban national team must face Venezuela, Canada and Colombia there (now pending) in that order; and if you take first or second place in your group, you can move on to the super round, where the two qualifiers of the other group will be, in which the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the United States will compete.

The winner of the super round gets a place for Tokyo, and those left in the next two places will have one last chance to look for the ticket in a repechage to be played in Taipei of China, where Holland, Australia, China, and the host country will be.

According to the performances of the Cuban national team in the last tournaments, passing over Venezuela and Canada, or accompanying one of them for the next phase, it seems very difficult, to say it soft, without exaggeration. Much more since Major League Baseball (MLB) gave the go-ahead for players from that organization to participate in the event.

Then, if cuba’s national team were to move on to the super round, there they must be, ranked (probably) by the other group, the two greatest baseball powers in America: the country where the sport was born (United States) and the highest number of Latin American players in the strongest league of the orb (Dominican Republic).

The last decade has seen the plummeting fall of Cuban baseball, the undestened decline in its quality, a reality crossed by many causes, but with a very strong one: the relentless flight of talent in search of opportunities for development that is not provided by the local league.

Another factor of weight has been the lack of an intelligent, well-vertebrate response of Cuban baseball structures to get out of the crisis, to grow and develop in the complex landscape raised. In that inadequacy the ball is stranded on the island a long time ago.

By contrast, paradoxically, as the island remains a very fertile land in that sport, Cuban players have opened their space in the MLB, to the point that in the 2019 season historical figures of participation and outstanding performances of several of them were achieved, such as the lead of home runs for the habanero Jorge Soler, the Rookie of the Year Award for the tunero Yordan Alvarez , and Best Reliever for the holguinero Aroldis Chapman, all in the American League.

In the season that will begin shortly in La Gran Carpa, new Cuban talents are loathing to settle down. Several of them already begin to sound, thanks to their performances in the preseason, such as Luis Robert Moirán, or Randy Arozarena.

One might think how many of those talented players, tested in the best baseball in the world, would have made the Cuba team if they had remained in their country. Because the entry into the selection, you know, is determined by extra-sports factors, as has been seen over and over again, for many years.

The last chapter starring those who decide the selected one (the elimination of the capitalist gardener Yosvani Peñalver and the tunero formeralist Yordanis Alarcón) is one link more than a long chain of injustices and arbitrariness committed by the leading dome of that sport, just one more stripe to the tiger.

What happened to these athletes now has happened countless times, with varying nuances, to many players with merits to make the selection. The list is very long, and among the likely “causes” emerge: fear of desertion, regionalism, and the spirit of “pineapple”.

It happens that in the past there was a quarry so great that the exclusion of some for favoring the “sown”, the “trusted”, “those known will not stay”, did not have greater consequences. Although the excluded could be asked how much harm the injustices committed to them caused them.

When that happened, in the 1980s and 1990s, the players were still playing in the Cuban league. Wounded inside, but they kept going. However, from the 1990s on, the doors of the diaspora were opened; and in the following decade, the talent flight increased, took center stage, and each exclusion could cost the loss of the pelotero, disappointed because they did not value him fairly.

Now, when talent does not abound, the elimination of Alarcón (last season’s most valuable player) and Peñalver (who has not tired of batting all year round, including the preparation stage), sounds like theater of absurdity. How is it possible, at this point, more of the same?

Arizona’s pre-Olympics are practically the same players with which the last tournaments have been lost, with the same offensive shortcomings, without an essential renewal, and only one miracle would allow Cuban baseball to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games. But miracles must be favored.

At the moment we have to wait for the alarms for the coronavirus to be extinguished so that the tournament can be held. Stopping the pandemic is now the priority.

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