The 53rd Cuban Baseball Series has presented itself full of changes. The recently-approved higher salaries for athletes and trainers came together with a number of other changes that go from the uniforms for the 16 teams that participate in the national series to allowing Cuban athletes to play in professional leagues overseas.
This may not be news for some people, given that some players were authorized to play overseas the past season. Those were the cases of Alfredo Despaigne and Yordanis Samón (from Granma Province), and third baseman Mitchel Enríquez (from Isla de la Juventud), who played for the Mexican team Piratas de Campeche.
This led to official stipulations that came into effect this season allowing Cuban baseball players to try their luck in stadiums abroad as members of other teams, mainly in the Mexican League. This is a necessary change that seeks to bring Cuba up to date in this modern age of baseball.
The teams’ uniforms also underwent some changes and acquired a different look. The colors and styles of the different uniforms were changed in an attempt to sell a more attractive image to the audiences. Likewise, each team’s uniform is to be distinct, given that several teams used to wear uniforms that were similar in design.
Meanwhile, nine teams also changed their logos. Camagüey lost the tinajón (large earthenware jar) and adopted the that better-fitting name of Toros (bulls); Ciego de Ávila added a pineapple given this province’s tradition of historically being Cuba’s largest pineapple producer. Although in my view, in the case of the latter, the image of a tiger would suit them better. It is no coincidence that they are better known as the Ciego de Ávila Tigers.
Other teams that changed their logos for the better were Sancti Spíritus and Cienfuegos. These two teams have been among Cuba’s best in recent years and their names were definitely inconsistent with the image that used to represent them. That was how Sancti Spíritus bid farewell to the Yayabo River Bridge and Cienfuegos got rid of the shrimp that used to be on its insignia. They have now incorporated a gallo (rooster) and an elefante (elephant), respectively.
Meanwhile, Isla de la Juventud’s team changed its name to Los Piratas (pirates), as shown on their new logo. The logo of Las Tunas Leñadores (lumberjacks) now features an axe, Santiago de Cuba Avispas (wasps), a sting and Guantanamo Indios (Indians) have dressed up a baseball as such. Artemisa, too, made changes to its logo, but to a lesser extent. The other teams have kept their logos for they clearly represent them.
The well-crafted mascots of the teams that take part in Cuba’s 53rd National Series liven up the games for the pleasure of fans. The audience now enjoys a different, more entertaining ballgame, in which mascots show, above all, Cubans’ great sense of humor.
It goes without saying that some mascots excel for their performances and are followed, loved and applauded to a greater extent by the public. Some examples are the Matanzas Cocodrilo (crocodile), the Havana Industriales León (lion), the Guantánamo Indio (Indian) and the newly incorporated Santiago de Cuba Avispa (wasp).
But the changes for this baseball season do not stop here. Several players have left their provinces of origin and are now playing for different teams, which has created holes in the regular lineups of some teams and benefitted the provinces to whose rosters they have been added.
This is the situation of the Gourriel brothers, who had to move to the capital from Sancti Spíritus due to their father’s health problems. Now, all three athletes (the Gourriel brothers and their father, Lourdes Gourriel, former star of the Cuba baseball team) are members of the Havana Industriales.
And Dainer Moreira, originally from Guantánamo, is now playing for Matanzas under Victor Mesa, who is also the manager of the national team.
Much controversy has arisen around these two cases because they left gaps in their teams of origin. Additionally, some people have also claimed that the leading teams in Occidente (western region) received an injection in their offensive department, especially if you take into consideration that they had lost batting power in comparison with the teams in Oriente (eastern region).
The roster of the 51st series champions, Ciego de Ávila, was also hampered when several of their most valuable players, who were instrumental in taking the team to the top positions of Cuban baseball, decided to go into retirement.
But the years take their toll and the other teams will have to endure similar unfortunate events over time and will have to try and make history with the next generations of players.
Baseballwise, only one thing has remained unchanged this year–the structure of the series.
In my view, playing only 45 games to qualify for the postseason is not enough for a good tournament. A series that short threatens a sport whose greatest merit and magnificence lie precisely in playing ball.
This is virtually impossible to put into practice given the structure that was implemented last year for the national series. According to this new structure, while the eight teams that qualified for the next 42-game phase continue to play until the finals, the other eight teams remain inactive for almost half a year.
So, how is inactivity going to help raise the quality of baseball in Cuba and reposition the Cuban National Team among the world’s top contenders? How will young players learn and how will star players continue to improve if they belong to teams that usually do not make it to the second phase?
It is valid to use reinforcements for the teams that do qualify for the next phase. Still, this is a matter that should be thoroughly analyzed, provided that these measures are actually intended to improve the quality of Cuban baseball, to help us leave the bottom teams behind and climb up the ladder, back to the stardom of baseball.