Baseball paradoxes and their fans on the island

By: José Antonio Michelena

La MLB y los cubanos

MLB and Cubans

The 2020 major league baseball (MLB) campaign, the strongest and most followed by the orb, ended its regular schedule – reduced to 60 games and without an audience in stadiums because of the Covid-19 – and is already in the postseason, in its new format; while, in Cuba, the National Series is in the third week of a season – with empty stadiums for the same reason – that has begun with an overflowing offense, a very poor pitching, and therefore many disproportionate scores that take the viewer away from the screen before finishing the games.

The teleebeld channel has also been broadcasting – deferred – some NBA basketball games, by now in the final battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heats. And, as usual, the sports channel resumed its coverage of European football leagues, newly initiated, with some live games, a privilege that neither the NBA nor the MLB enjoys. The latter, after a few years of irregular follow-up, has completely disappeared from the programming grid.

The televization of major league games in Cuba, after 1959, had its best moment in 2016, when you could see, just a day after all the World Series games: the epic fight between Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, won by the latter.

Four years after that October dream, for whatever reason, Cubans on the island who want to stay on top of MLB and watch some games have to go to the most varied stratagems. (We don’t count here the privileged who own cable television or can watch them online, something unthinkable for the vast majority.)

Paradoxically, if the quality of baseball played on the island has plummeted from year to year, and major leagues are absent from national television, Cuban players continue to arrive in Las Mayores and write bright pages, as if being born here will already empower them for those efforts.

In last year’s MLB season, the presence of Cubans set a record: 30 compatriots took part. In the current one, it almost happens again: we reached 29. The 2019 one inscribed several of them among the most prominent: the tunero Yordan Alvarez was Rookie of the Year, the capital Jorge Soler led the home runs, the hundred-year-old Jose Dariel Abreu to the racing drivers, and the lazy Aroldis Chapman was voted Best Reliever, all in the American League.

José Dariel Abreu
José Dariel Abreu

In the atypical regular campaign that culminated last Sunday, José Dariel Abreu has once again performed another feat, commanding, for the second year in a row, the racing pushers, leading the hits box, surpassing 300 average, and connecting 19 home runs. Those figures, and his renowned leadership in the Chicago White Sox, which reached the postseason for the first time since 2008, must be sufficient merits for him to be elected as the American League Most Valuable Player.

A formidable season also starred in the torpedoist José Iglesias, who recorded a very high offensive average, but some physical ailments, in addition to an injury, prevented him from having the necessary at-bats to contest the reign in compromise.

Grabbing headlines a good part of the campaign was outfielder Luis Robert Moirán, and his name was constantly mentioned for Rookie of the Year, but a noticeable drop at bat in recent weeks must have taken away many options.

Yuli Gurriel
Yuli Gurriel

Of the rest of the Cuban players, it is worth mentioning Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who finished with an average of 308, in addition to having connected key bats in several games and made sensational plays defensively. His action, offensive and defensive, contributed to Toronto’s advance to the postseason.

But the most striking event of the regular campaign for Cubans was what happened in the game between the Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, August 16. That day, four Chicago hitters hit home runs consecutively to tie an MLB all-time record. It was they, the Cubans Yoán Moncada, Yasmani Grandal and José D. Abreu, joined by the Dominican Eloy Jiménez.

Just the White Soose, with four Cubans in their regular lineup, aroused a lot of enthusiasm here, but they were wrecked at the start of the postseason against the Oakland Athletics and did not move on to the American League Division Series (SDLA). Instead, three other teams with a Cuban presence will be in that dispute on the so-called young circuit: the Houston Astros, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the New York Yankees.

The Astros have Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Díaz, Yordan Alvarez, and Cionel Pérez in their ranks, and have a good fan in Cuba, as well as the Yankees, the team of supersonic pitcher Aroldis Chapman. But he has also become a follower on our premises, tampa’s joint battler, who killed Toronto early and has two Cubans in the thick part of his lineup: Randy Arozarena and Yandi Díaz.

Among the National League teams that went on to the postseason there are also Cubans, although with the exception of Raisel Iglesias, Cincinatti’s already eliminated closed pitcher, they are not among the regular players.

From last Tuesday until the end of the October Classic, either through the package, the antenna, the internet (sometimes), the news…, in multiple ways, on the island we are attentive to the postseason of the MLB and, above all, to the game of Cubans. We will celebrate, with some of them, victory in the World Series, as we did in 2015 with the Royals of Kendrys Morales; in 2016, with the Cubs, chapman and Soler; and in 2017, with the Astros, by Yuli Gurriel.

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