The most important encounters between professional Cuban and Major League Baseball (MLB) players in the last 16 years boil down to a friendly match against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999 and games during the World Baseball Classics, where the island has faced national teams featuring several MLB players.
Obviously, almost all the players from the historic 1999 duel are retired, with the exception of pitchers Ciro Silvino Licea from Granma and Danel Castro of Las Tunas, who are still active players.
Nor are many of the players from the team lineups in the early editions of the World Classics – who had the opportunity to face off against powerful squads from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Mexico’s major leagues – competing today in our National Series.
It was precisely during the 2009 Classic held in Mexico that Cuba last competed against MLB stars, since during the 2013 edition the island faced rival teams Japan, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Brazil and China, which only featured individuals with experience in the U.S. Major League as players on contract.
Today, in Cuba we can count the number of national players that have measured up against a majority MLB team on one hand, thus the approaching friendly game against the Tampa Bay Rays (March 22), in Havana, will be a golden opportunity for promising national players to experience the quality and strength of a MLB team.
Contemplating the possible line up, names such as Luis Robert Moirán, José Adolis García, Guillermo Avilés, Dairon Blanco, Julio Pablo Martínez, Jefferson Delgado, Alexander Pozo or Rubén Paz come to mind - the latter frontrunner for Rookie of the Year in the current National Series - all players with outstanding results so far this season, not to mention pitchers Frank Luis Medina and Yoandry Cruz, who have gone from strength to strength since the beginning of their careers.
When it comes to baseball, our philosophy is based on winning at all costs, but looking toward the friendly game against Tampa we must not be afraid to put our faith in young players, eager to gain experience and learn, while the competition should act as motivation for the best players in the country, whose results have had a notable impact on their teams.
Nor can we forget the stellar pre-selection squad of experienced players, which includes Norberto González, Rudy Reyes, Alexander Malleta, Eriel Sánchez, Jonder Martínez, Danny Betancourt, Ariel Borrero or Vladimir García, who are already familiar with the skills and might of MLB stars.
Following the game’s official announcement, the Cuban Baseball Federation released a statement in which it noted, “In regards to the competition, it is our duty to present a team able to meet fans’ expectations.”
I think that mixing an important group of the best talents in the country with the most outstanding players from the National Baseball Series, and some the island’s most renowned players, we can put together the right kind of team.
The U.S. squad, despite being one of the youngest and having the lowest budget in the league, has fought hard throughout its history in the Major League, competing against giants such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles.
Given this reality, and lacking the resources to buy star players, Tampa has focused its efforts on developing the potential of its main prospects. Looking toward the upcoming game, the team has put together a strong lineup, once again featuring experienced and renowned third baseman Evan Longoria (three times All Star player, twice winner of the Golden Glove and Silver Slugger Award in 2009), stellar pitcher Chris Archer (562 strikeouts in four seasons) or center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (2015 Golden Glove).
These men could see themselves stepping foot onto the field at Havana’s Latinoamericano Stadium in a couple of weeks, for a game which is sure to be an excellent opportunity for our talents to test their skills against MLB players.