There was no doubt. Alfredo Despaigne was selected as Cuba's best player of the year by the National Baseball Directorate, in recognition of his outstanding performance, with Granma's Sorrels in the National Series and the SoftBank Falcons in Japan, with both teams winning the 2017 championships in their respective leagues.
The power hitter was the indisputable leader on the Japanese team that plays in the country's Pacific League, which is known for its offense given that designated hitters are used. Despaigne's 35 home runs, and 103 runs batted in, won him recognition among many star players.
In the past 56th National Series, his presence as fourth bat in the Sorrels' line-up was decisive to winning the team's first championship of its history.
Despaigne has being playing in Japan for four years now, and has become known for his extraordinary effort during training and the rigor with which he approaches every one of the long season's 143 games, in the regular stage, not to mention the playoffs. He has participated in 418 games, with 1,488 at-bats, 405 hits, 89 runs, 290 runs batted in, an average of 272, 502 slugging, and an on-base percentage of 356.
How has it been possible for a Latin American player, with habits that are very different from those of his Asian teammates, been able to become an idol in the city of Fukuoka, where SoftBank is located?
With much discipline and willpower. When he arrived in the country four years ago, he was intent upon putting heart and soul into his work. Despaigne himself has said that the beginning was hard, and that the Japanese take baseball very seriously. They arrive at the stadium at noon, six hours before a game, and train in intervals.
Only a player of his mettle would be capable of adapting to the separation from his family, a different lifestyle, and devoting himself entirely to his profession. I am of the opinion that his greatest achievement has been adapting to Japanese pitching, the world's second best, to the degree that he outshone all his Cuban teammates in the most recent World Classic.
The first Cuban to play baseball in Japan was Roberto Barbón, from Matanzas, back in 1955. Others who had played in the United States Major Leagues followed him: Lorenzo Fernández, Román Mejías, Tony "the Haitian" González, Zoilo Versalles, Orestes Destrade and others. No one was able to impress fans as Despaigne has, with so much power in his wrists and modesty in his heart.
DESPAIGNE IN JAPAN-2017
- 136 games played
- 478 at-bats
- 66 runs
- 125 hits
- 262 batting average
- 15 doubles
- 35 homeruns (Number 1)
- 103 runs batted in (Number1)
IN THE 56TH NATIONAL SERIES
- 15 games played
- 39 at-bats
- 14 runs
- 11 hits
- 282 batting average
- 5 homeruns
- 18 runs batted in
- Most valuable player in the finals
IV WORLD CLASSIC
- 6 games played
- 19 at-bats
- 6 runs
- 9 hits
- 474 batting average
- 3 homeruns
- 6 runs batted in
OTHER OUTSTANDING PLAYERS
Manager Carlos Martí did the best work with the national champions from Granma.
Jorge Niebla, outstanding umpire, also recognized by the World Baseball-Softball Confederation.
Outstanding in the juvenile category were César Prieto and Yorbert Sánchez, the best player and rookie of the year, respectively.
The top ten list also includes Yurisbel Gracial (MTZ), Lázaro Blanco (GRA), Liván Moinelo (PRI), Roel Santos (GRA), Yordan Manduley (HOL), Alexander Ayala (CMG), Miguel Lahera (ART), Carlos Benítez (GRA), Frank Camilo Morejón (HAB) and Yordanis Samón (HAB).