The 57th Baseball National Series will not feature many changes, as was reported by league authorities August 1, during a mini-conference to confirm details of the season, which will be dedicated the country's historic leader,
Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.
The season will again have two phases of 45 games each, the first with 16 teams participating, competing for one of the six slots available in the second round. The four teams with the best records will qualify directly for the second phase, while the teams ranking fifth through eighth will compete for the other two slots, in a qualifying play-off, which attracted much attention last year.
The first stage will continue through October 3. Any cancelled games will be played October 5-11 and the qualification series will take place the 13th through the 17th. On October 20, reinforcement players, from teams which did not qualify for the second round, will be selected, and the All Star Game will take place the following weekend. The second stage will begin October 26 and continue through the end of the year. The championship playoffs will take place in January.
The five reinforcement players, selected by each of the six teams which qualify for the second round, stay with the team throughout this phase. Season semifinalists will have the opportunity to choose three more players to strengthen their team for the playoffs. In both selection processes, the same methodology will be used to determine order of selection in five rounds. The Technical Commission will present a list of eligible players.
The league will continue playing with Mizuno balls, and regulations governing pitchers are being maintained, as well as those on video reviews of decisions, which are allowed in specific cases: batter hit by pitch; fair or foul ball in the outfield; forced play; double or homerun by rule; out or safe at base; catches in the outfield; and collisions at home plate.
In terms of changes, pitchers will throw no pitches to intentionally allow a walk. They must simply notify the umpire and the batter will be sent directly to first base.
During the mini-conference, managers also approved a decision to allow teams to bring 27 players to each game, while maintaining a roster of 40, thus permitting the coaching staff to make changes without having to constantly add and remove players from the main roster.
Yovani Aragón, national director of the league, clarified that changes to the roster, are still permitted, but only in the event of an injury or disciplinary infraction.
Regarding game times, it was reported that teams with lighting in their home stadiums can start at either 4:00pm or 7:00pm, but they must confirm the availability of electricity and make any schedule changes at least three days in advance. Ciego de Ávila, for example, will hold all of its home games (Monday through Friday) at 7:00pm.
Teams in provinces without lights in their ballparks, and those where electricity is not available, will begin games at 2:00pm, until Daylight Savings Time ends, and after that, at 1:30pm.
Jesús Barroso, in charge of the National Series, said that games can be held in different municipalities, but only where the conditions are truly appropriate for the country's most important spectator sport.
Concluding the mini-conference, Dr. Antonio Castro, vice president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, invited to the gathering, noted that we are taking on a great commitment to preserve the legacy of Fidel by returning Cuban baseball to its former glory, saying, "We need the collaboration and effort of all, so that baseball doesn't strike out."
AN INNING WITH ARAGÓN
After the meeting of several hours, Yovani Aragón, national baseball director and former pitcher, spoke with Granma International about organizational aspects of the season, as well as the composition of teams and various controversies which have emerged concerning the absences of some players.
First of all, Aragón confirmed that equipment and uniforms have been delivered on time, clarifying that the principal problem in this area was the acquisition of spikes, explaining, "All of the clothing is produced domestically, but around the second or third sub-series, teams will receive uniforms that are a bit more attractive and of better quality, manufactured by the Italian company Teammate, with which we signed a contract. This clothing will maintain the same design, since we didn't have time to coordinate this aspect, but we are already thinking about next year.
"The main problem we have is with the spikes, since we don't have enough to give them to all the players. Given this situation, the managers themselves decided that no one will be given anything, until all the shoes are available," he said.
Referring to controversies regarding the composition of teams, he acknowledged that the cases drawing the most attention are those of Edwin Vassel and Pavel Quesada in Cienfuegos, and Michel Enríquez in the Isle of Youth.
"Vassel and Quesada returned to the country after some time abroad, and are in the process of repatriation, about which they have yet to receive an answer. We hope this issue can be resolved shortly, and perhaps, at some point during the Series, if the situation is clarified they can be added to the roster, that is if Cienfuegos has an opening because of an injury or infraction," Aragón explained.
"As for Michel, first I'll say that he is an athlete I respect very much, for his many achievements with the Isle of Youth and the national team. He is under contract with the National Series and we know that a contract abroad has also been negotiated, without the mediation of the Cuban Federation or INDER (National Institute for Sports, Recreation and Physical Education). Plus, there has not been any communication between authorities in the municipality and the player himself, a detail that could clarify things a bit, because right now, we haven't heard anything from Michel.
"There are other similar cases like those of Yordanis Alarcón from Las Tunas and José Pablo Cuesta in the capital, whose provinces have not included them on the rosters simply because they don't have any information about them," he said. Clarifying aspects of the contracting process, Aragon explained, "We are not the ones who contract, nor do we seek interested parties, they come on their own. There is a negotiating group in the INDER, of which the president of the Cuban Baseball Federation is a member, but it is the provinces who authorize players to try out abroad.
"Contracts are analyzed, the conditions are discussed with players and if there is any disagreement on their part, the signing process is stopped in order to negotiate. Plus, we have achieved that they will be paid in full. Not a penny is discounted, since now the clubs pay the Cuban Federation 10% of the contracts value as training rights, without affecting the man's full salary."
On another issue, Aragón commented that the best way to reduce disciplinary infractions in the National Series is to plan ahead and educate players, umpires, and commissioners, saying, "We have our own baseball disciplinary code, in which some details have been readjusted, not only for the National Series, but to be used in all categories. For example, in this new document, sanctions of 20 or 30 games are options, so that a measure of one or two years, out of the game, is not always applied. This does not mean that a soft touch might exist. Everyone will be punished in accordance with their actions."
The director reported that the site of the All-Star Game will not be announced right away, but as the season advances, explaining, "We have reached consensus to wait until the 30th or 35th game to choose the location, enough time for any province to prepare well."
Lastly, Aragón commented that it would be advantageous to, in some way, allow fans to participate in the selection of the stars, "We should motivate people to seek information about the players and get involved in the competition. We could put together the lists based on performances, but those who fill the stadiums could decide on the winning players via a popular vote. It's an idea to take into consideration," he concluded.