Time doesn’t just pass; it flies, and with the 57th National Baseball Series recently inaugurated, now seems like a good moment to review the highlights of the competition over the last 10 years, from the 47th to 56th edition.
The decade began with a win by Santiago de Cuba’s Hornets. The team dominated the competition from start to finish, led by players such as Alexei Bell and Rolando Meriño – the latter currently having a fantastic offensive season – and top-class pitchers like Norge Luis Vera. This was the team’s swansong moment, as the Hornets have failed to win another series since.
The following year a “power” team claimed the title of the Cuban Classic. Havana’s team featured one of the most powerful pitching line-ups in the history of the competition. Left-hander Yulieski González and three right-handers the caliber of Jonder Martínez, the late Yadier Pedroso and Miguel Alfredo González, gave Havana its first and only win, as shortly afterwards the province was reorganized to create two new territories: Artemisa and Mayabeque.
However, the capital’s new team, Industriales, didn’t feature among the favorites for the 49th Series, in fact they were even on the verge of being eliminated in the preliminary round. Industriales finally qualified and from there on out were unstoppable, winning in spectacular fashion in the final against Villa Clara before a packed Sandino Stadium. Players such as Alexander Malleta, Frank Camilo, Juan Carlos Torriente, Yoandry Urgellés, Stayler Hernández and Frank Montieth are still active today.
The so-called 50th “golden” Series saw the resurgence of one of the four greats of Cuban baseball, Pinar del Río. The Vegueros, coached by series-winning manager Alfonso Urquiola, and featuring outstanding batters such as Yosvani Peraza, Donal Duarte, and William Saavedra, led by a pitching roster which included Vladimir Baños, Yosvani Torres, and Julio Alfredo Martínez, were more than enough to defeat Ciego de Ávila in the final.
Twelve months later, in the 51st Series, the Tigers of Ciego de Ávila finally gave fans what they had been waiting for, as names like Vladimir García, Yorbis Borroto, and Yoelvis Fiss made headlines in an unforgettable win against Industriales.
Ciego de Ávila continued to make history, going on to win the 54th and 55th Series. They would have made it a hat-trick but were stopped in their tracks by Granma’s Sorrels, a team not thought likely to win, but which eventually defeated record winning team Matanzas in the 56th edition of the competition.
Pinar del Rio clinched another victory during this 10 year period in the 53rd Classic, which was to be followed by a triumph in the Caribbean Series in 2015. Meanwhile Villa Clara claimed the crown of the 52nd Series which saw Ariel Pestano make an unforgettable home-run to defeat the Crocodiles of Matanzas.
In short, ten tournaments and six different champions. We can no longer talk about Four Greats.
SIX BATTING TITLES
For over five years Cuban baseball’s top batter was Osmani Urrutia: the star player from Macagua 8, Las Tunas, and winner of six titles. Eventually, Osmani retired begging the question: who would take his place?
The first was Yoandry Garlobo of Matanzas, a “powerhouse” whose batting average of .398 earned him a regular spot on the Cuban national team ever since the first World Classic.
From then on the title of top-batter alternated between three formidable players. One of these was Alfredo Despaigne from Granma, known for his powerful hits, home-run champion on more than one occasion, and also able to attain astronomical averages. Despaigne won the title for the first time in the 49th Series, with an outstanding .404 average.
Another tactful slugger, José Dariel Abreu from Cienfuegos, took the title in both the 50th and 51st Series; first with a high average of .453 and then .394. Despaigne reclaimed the top spot again in the 52nd edition, hitting an average of .382, winning the title once more, just three years ago, in the 54th Series, with .406.
Finally, Michel Enríquez from the Isle of Youth was proclaimed top-batter on two occasions. A year after Garlobo’s triumph, Enríquez set a new record of .447; returning once again to dominate the 53rd edition, this time with an average of .367.
The last two years have seen an end to the success of historic champions, with two different players claiming the most coveted of all baseball’s individual titles. The first, Industriales’ Yulieski Gurriel caught the limelight with 87 hits and 178 official turns at bat for an average of .500. He was followed by another player from Matanzas in the 56th Series, Jefferson Delgado, whose strong batting from start to finish saw him earn an average of .403.