While the Olympics were in full swing, the 56th National Baseball Series, the most popular sporting event in Cuba, commenced on August 7. Given the ongoing Summer Games, it was assumed from the outset that neither fans not the press would pay the Series the usual attention, as they were caught up in the action under the five rings, which saw long days of competition.
Recently, I reflected on the fact that there were no surprises in the course of events, even for the governing bodies of the national pastime. Ever since the start date of the 56th Series was announced, precisely on the same weekend that the Olympic Games was set to kick off, it was clear that the coverage would not be the same, and we accepted this as the price to pay to have a champion team by the end of January, to compete in the Caribbean Series, just as did the baseball leagues from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela.
It was a necessary measure because we could not afford, for the fourth year in a row, to arrive at this demanding regional tournament with a squad that had won the series six or seven months earlier. With the collective dynamics and the high spirits resulting from a championship win dampened by then, our teams arrived at the Caribbean competition in less than optimal conditions.
The disastrous performances of Villa Clara (one win in four appearances) and Ciego de Ávila (1-5) in the 2014 and 2016 editions, respectively, are well remembered; and we can not ignore that Pinar del Río, despite winning in 2015, had a very shaky start before making a titanic comeback.
All of the above led to a reassessment of the situation and, finally, the calendar for Cuba’s top-level baseball was adapted to meet international demands. It made no sense to continue with the constant interruptions to the domestic series to compete in world competitions.
The last series suffered several breaks due to friendly games, the Caribbean Series itself, and the usual end-of-year festivities, which on more than one occasion threw players and teams off course, given the consequences of repeatedly changing training schedules.
The dynamics and new schedule of the current tournament, although experiencing an initial lack of attention due to the Olympic Games, will allow the island to send players to the Caribbean Series and the Fourth World Baseball Classic (March, 2017), who are still riding high on a series win, having faced the decisive phase of the competition in January; a postseason that will serve as a preamble for the much higher level of baseball required.
Who will be the stars then? At this point, when not even half of the first round has been played, it’s still unpredictable, especially taking into account the instability of almost all the teams, which in January will present very different faces given the addition of reinforcements at two points: at the end of the first stage and before reaching the final playoffs.