Cuba Baseball: Si Si Puede!
Unbelievable!! The baseball gods are good to me this year - first the White Sox, now Cuba in the World Baseball Classic making it to the Final 4 in San Diego - to play Dominica, Korea and US or Mexico.
What a tournament this is shaping up to be, and without players even getting paid. Even if it's not even on US TV(?!), the emotion you are seeing on these player's faces says it all. This Cuba rematch vs. Puerto Rico - and quite a few others - have been just amazing baseball games. The Cubans played inspired baseball, running and slashing - and the pitching came through (I was worried that they couldn't use Lazo).
This MLB.com writer tries to capture the feeling in San Juan: For all the emotionally intense drama that has arisen in baseball games past, what happened in the final innings on Wednesday night during one wild elimination game in Puerto Rico probably deserves a place in history all by itself.
This is an unprecedented event, and it forces the observer watching it live to view everything from different perspectives. There were some truly wild moments, tempers were rising, the rain was falling, national pride was at stake, elite Major League players were letting it all hang out... There were the Cuban players on top of the dugout as usual, just waiting to release all that pent-up emotion with unrestrained glee.
And then there it was, the final swing and miss, then big Pedro Luis Lazo and those Cuban players thundering toward the mound in an amazing celebration, and the looks of deflated anger on the faces of the Puerto Rican players who now will scatter their separate ways. Just as Venezuela's was, Puerto Rico's unbelievably talented roster suddenly was forced to disband, just an ephemeral piece of history. Maybe this is the key - Cuba is a T-E-A-M.
The Cubans were dressed in all red, something they made a point of before the game. The symbolism was apparently lost on the NYTimes writer, who actually red meant championship(?) Are we that far away from the Cold War that we don't know what red means?
ESPN showed no clips of Cuba scoring - only arguing, making errors, walking like zombies, arguing more and then celebrating (these images fit into our accepted view of Cuba). The NYTimes and ESPN both approved of the questionable (and critical) calls in favor of PR. I ask then: have they not heard of the routine "neighborhood" double-play call at 2nd base (where a player must get out of the way of an incoming sliding player)? This was a classic case. If every double-play in the US was called like that, we'd have thousands more baseball injuries a year.
Check out ESPN's double-talk: "tough call, --rta looks like the right call. They don't get the neighborhood call in the WBC." So he admits that Cuba would normally get the call in MLB (and everywhere else), but also says this was the "right call" without reason.
And this is mild compared to all the derision and dismissal of the Cuban team endured. It wouldn't have been out of character to hear one of the ESPN a**holes, or Miami Herald cowards openly mock the headline in this morning's Granma. Regarding the Cuban people's pride and joy - their baseball team - the headline was simply "Si Si Puede."
Even in defeat, Jose Oquendo, the Puerto Rican manager, wouldn't relent in aggression. He derisively said the Cubans had "five good players any major league team" would want.
Cuba's coach answered offensive and annoying questions about supposed defections by saying: "Whoever wants to go into exile can walk away or stand next to a policeman. We don't have prisoners. Simply, our athletes are besieged because people want to turn them into merchandise. But they want to play for their country."
Beating Puerto Rico at home in a game that meant everything will rank as a historic Cuban basball achievement. It is the biggest upset of the tourney in most minds (even mine?) and carried so much emotion in the stands and field. Symbolic on so many levels. This WBC has the potential to become an event - and I'm going to be there, watching my Illini as well. And if it is Cuba-US on Monday I might come down with an ailment...