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by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

With changes to its structure and especially to its schedule, the 56th Cuban Baseball Series is now in its post-season stage with four teams remaining in the competition: Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Granma and Villa Clara. The elimination of three legendary teams such as Industriales, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río during the first stage was very exciting. Without a doubt though, Pinar del Río has the best group of pitchers on the Island.

The afore-mentioned changes to the format of the competition are linked to the need for adapting to and fitting in with the international schedule of sporting events such as the important Caribbean Series, which takes place in February, and the World Classic in March. By doing this, the training for each of these events can be done properly. In pointing out some of the outstanding moments in this championship series, I would like to emphasize the emergence of very young talent, which leads us to think of the next generation of our baseball stars, ready to play in the most demanding leagues.

Among these youngsters we have Yoenis Céspedes’ brother, Yoelkis Céspedes, from Granma. He has impressed us with his batting skills and running speed, which has made him the number one player for triples. In terms of pitching, we have athletes coming out of the youth league, such as Yosbel Zulueta from Villa Clara. In spite of his tender years, he shows remarkable steadiness on the mound and combines a great curve ball with an even greater fastball.

Once again the characteristic explosiveness of the manager of Matanzas, Victor Mesa, has brought home good results, placing the team at the top in total points and giving them an impressive record of 42 victories and only 3 losses during the first stage. The most valuable men on the team are pitchers Yoani Yera (leader in strikeouts) and Yonder Martínez, and Jefferson Delgado (leader in hits) and Yordanis Samón. One of the characteristics of team of the Matanzas Province is that they have players from around the country.

Mesa frequently repeats the “stealing home” tactic that made him famous as a player. Sometimes this turns into a suicidal move but it revs up the excitement of the game. Even in the most adverse games, Matanzas has been seen to lead by at least 5 runs. They play a tactical game, calculated to take advantage of their opponents’ weaknesses.

The other team showing character and stability is the current national champ Ciego de Ávila under the coaching of former catcher Roger Machado. He is a manger who has matured quickly and shows us his ability to go for the wins. Placing it in second ranking, Ciego’s most valuable players include pitcher Vladimir García and catcher Osvaldo Vázquez (leader in homeruns).

As for Villa Clara, two of their most stellar fgures in the last twenty years were let go during this series: legendary catcher Ariel Pestano and first-baseman Ariel Borrero, who is known as the “Remolcador” [Tow Truck] for his many RBIs and who was responsible for an amazing hit at the First World Classic against Dominican Bartolo Colón.

At this moment in time, the four managers are planning their strategies, faced with the possibility of requesting three more reinforcement players so that each of them can round out their rosters and thereby shore up their weaknesses and provide the Cuban fans with the exciting show they are hoping for.

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