As this first World Baseball Classic (WBC) comes to a close most of the Cuban players will soon
fade from the U.S. media’s eyes, but fans who watched this tournament
will not soon forget the heroic and passionate play of Eduardo Paret
(captain and SS), Joan Pedrosa (1B), Alexei Ramirez (OF), Ariel Pestano
(C), Michel Enriquez (3B), Yulieski Gourriel (2B), Yadel Marti (P),
Pedro Luis Lazo (P) and the rest of the Cuban National Team. From the get-go, Cuba has had all the odds against them, yet here they are on the cusp of being crowned the first champions of the WBC. Throughout their saga, Cuba has stood tall, but more importantly stood together. Like the Detroit Pistons bearing down on an opponent or the Brazillians dancing their way to a World Cup title, the Cubans have exemplified the concept of teamwork. In the midst of a chorus of controversy, with passion and confidence as their catalysts, this gigantic underdog has leapt to the head of the pack.
Let’s recap some of the Cuban team’s trials and tribulations—First the U.S. Government tries to prevent Cuba from even participating in the WBC under the guise of enforcing its never-ending trade embargo against the carribbean island. Then, Cuba (one of the poorest nations in the Classic) has to commit to being the only team that will donate all of its earnings to a charity (Katrina Hurricane
Victims). The team is finally granted a permit to play only a week before the tournament begins.
So, they come to San Juan having to face the toughest bracket in the tournament. Along the way they beat the best pitcher in the major leagues, Johan Santana, and his heavily favored Venezuelan club.
They also avenge their only two defeats- trouncings at the hands of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Both rematch victories eliminate their more popular carribean counterparts. During almost every game, they endure antagonistic pro-U.S. crowds and the constant heckling of
negative propaganda. Yet, with an ‘us against the world’ type
commraderie they have only grown closer as they continually rise to the occasion.
Not only has Cuba overcome teams chock full of major leaguers, they have also overcome bad umpiring. They have survived at least six horrendous calls so far- the worst being a call on a play at second base against Puerto Rico (quarterfinals) where the umps decided to ignore the internationally accepted ‘neighborhood play’. That blown call cost them their manager, Higinio Velez and his translator- they won the game anyway. They won because of an attitude that never says ‘Quit!’. How about their young second baseman, Yulieski Gourriel’s dramatic ninth inning blast against Panama (in the opening game) or his perfect relay throw with a rain soaked ball that pegged Ivan Rodriquez at the plate to ice the victory against
Puerto Rico. Or Gourriel overcoming his error against the Dominican Republic (that put Dominican ahead) and tying the game up the very next inning with the hustling speed of a man who just won’t accept defeat. How about Yadel Marti and Pedro Luis Lazo pitching with the poise of heroes upon facing elimination- not once, but twice! They made three of the majors’ best sluggers- Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz and Albert Pujols look like the Dominicans’ 7,8 and 9 hitters. Marti hugging Lazo when he was being taken out of a scoreless semifinal game was one of the warmest moments of the Classic. Cuba has played the role of Davey to a tee. With only one Goliath remaining (Japan), Cuba is one step away from completing this truly cinderella story. And to think all of this almost didn’t happen because of a permit. Aren’t you glad they let the Cubans play?
*Neighborhood Play – A force play in which the runner is called out because the defensive player with the ball is close enough to or within the ‘neighborhood’ of the base. This unofficial rule is accepted by most umpires to prevent middle infielders from serious injuries caused by the oncoming baserunner.