Pinar del Rio.—For some time now, Claudio Roba has been working on crafting a bat in his carpentry shop that sends the ball backwards.
You didn't read that wrong. Challenging physics, this self-taught or "street" craftsman, as he calls himself, believes that such a tool would be very useful in training catchers.
Roba reports that this strange bat made from wood fiber, given just the right twist by the hitter, produces a pop-up in the catcher's zone. Reporting that the project is just about done, he states, "It's already being tried in some areas. I hope to have the results this month of May."
Among other inventions, by this 55-year-old from Pinar del Río, is the first Cuban bat manufactured with wood fiber, also meant to be used in training.
Getting this model just right took him six years. "There are leagues around the world that use fiber bats in practice, given their durability, so I took on making a Cuban version," he explains.
In broad strokes, the process consists of extracting fine strands of wood that are pressed together with a resin-based glue, creating a compact piece that is "cooked" at more than 100 degrees Celsius, and later shaped on a lathe.
With this technique, instead of depending on large quantities of hardwood, bats can be produced with scraps left over from other activities, Roba notes.
Players in the under-18 category tried out the bats at Pinar Del Río's
Sports School, and teachers there agreed that they were very appropriate for training, since they don't break or split.
"During one baseball game, an athlete will go to bat three or four times, but during practice, they have dozens of turns at bat, and even hundreds of swings," the inventor comments.
Following the small ones, adults came to his workshop on the outskirts of the city of Pinar Del Río. His bats gained acceptance and made their way to the province's National Series team in the 45th season.
"Other provinces' teams noticed and began to visit me," he recalls. During the training of the team that represented Cuba in the 2007 Pan American Games in Río de Janeiro, ten of them were used. With the backing of players and managers, specialists within the sports industry, and the National Baseball, the trademarks Roba and Diosflex emerged.
The difference between the two bats lies in their flexibility, with the Diosflex being slightly more flexible, an indispensable quality that prevents the wood fiber material from breaking.
WAITING TO SWING
The entire process is done by hand, allowing Roba to shape the bat in accordance with the positioning of fibers within the piece.
Alfredo Despaigne, Osmani Urrutia, Yosvany Peraza, William Saavedra, Yoandri Urgellés… the list of star players who have held his bats is long. "Just imagine, in 2008, I managed to make 800 for the National Series, Roba says.
Many bats, he reports, have been shaped taking into consideration the size, weight, and hands of those who will hold them, adding, "This is the way it should always be, in accordance with the physical and mechanical characteristics of the player, so that we don't see him making faces in the batting box, as if he were feeling uncomfortable."
Ten years after his bats were first used in the National Series, he is just as excited to see a player swinging Roba or a Diosflex, saying, "This is my greatest joy. It doesn't matter if he's wearing my province's uniform, or whether it’s the opponent.
"So much is said about the need to replace imports, and we don't go to the root of the problem. The preference is to spend thousands of dollars abroad buying bats, rather than giving the task to the country's producers," Roba comments.
In 2008, he launched the challenging effort publicly and crafted many of the practice bats used that season. A year later, he raised the bar, saying that in addition to bats needed by National Series teams, he would guarantee those for the Development League, now designated Under-23.
Nonetheless, despite players and managers' recognition of the quality of his bats, he has never again been able to acquire the wood needed to produce on a large scale.
"We have the tools and the human capital, which is the most important," he says, "All that's needed is for those who make decisions to take a swing."