Photo: Ismael Batista

GUADALAJARA.— There is no Cuban player, reporter, or fan who doesn't live baseball. This energy or ardor with which we watch a game can blind us at times. This reporter

is no exception, since I am flesh and blood, too, and have baseball in my veins.

Granma leaves the Caribbean Series in third place, one spot better than last year, but what remains for fans is the dissatisfaction of not seeing the team in the finals, because they had the goods to be there.

I know there have been plenty of comments about the fifth inning of the semifinal, when the team scored no runs despite loading the bases with just one out, leading 3-0. I said that in this city's Panamericano Stadium, and given the level of our opponents, this advantage was not at all decisive.

In situations like this, I noted that a designated hitter could have replaced catcher Frank Camilo Morejón, who had been the hero of the previous game, practically guaranteeing the team a third spot in the series.

Manager Carlos Martí told me he never considered taking Frank Camilo out of the game under these circumstances, saying, "We were winning by three, it was only the fifth inning and he is our lead catcher."

Before this conversation, I had written that the three players on base were among the team's slowest, and the catcher himself is not known for his speed. Thus the opinion that it was time for a designated hitter, since there were other hitters coming up who could frustrate a possible double play.

I respect this decision not only because Martí is the manager, but because he has shown that he knows the team, and manages them correctly, and in terms of

Frank Camilo, he may not be a great hitter, but as catcher he has found ways to resolve very difficult situations at home and in international competitions.

In any event, despite the various interpretations, no designated hitter was sent in and it cost the team.

There were several other details that made a difference: the main relief pitchers, Miguel Lahera and Raidel Martínez, were not able to protect the minimal lead and the defense fell short when they were most needed.

Other opinions expressed online and in the world of baseball refer to the number of bases stolen by opponents, nine in all. Regarding this issue, Martí commented, "I think the catchers are responsible; you could see how they practically ran to the pitcher with the ball in their hands. This is a problem in our baseball that we need to fix. Pitchers don't take care of the base runners."

Roel's attempted steal in the ninth, with no outs, and the second, third, and fourth bats coming up? It has already been said that this was crazy, but was the game lost with this play? Do we criticize now, when we always praise such attempts? When Alarcón did the same thing last month in the National Series Championship, we noted the mistake, but did not condemn him. I'll do the same in this case.

It would be unfair to evaluate this Granma team on the basis of one game, much less one loss. I think they played a great competition. The team's leadership was coherent, and took some risks, like debuting Yurisbel Gracial in right field, which I believe reduced the Matanzas power hitter's production. Online commentators were right when they complained that Alfredo Despaigne didn't contribute much to the cause. Everyone expected that AD54 would provide a customary homerun, but I will not be the journalist who judges a man with a multi-million dollar contract in Japan, who chooses to play for his people in the national championship and here, despite an injury - unlike others playing abroad who don't come home to make a contribution.

Anyway, least we forget, Granma wasn't the only team on the field. The Dominicans had manager Lino Rivera at the helm, moving his pitchers as precisely as a chess master, taking opener Yunieski Maya out in the second inning, and turning to closer Josh Judy in the ninth.

These moves prevented Cuba from adding to the 3-0 lead, and kept the Aguilas chances alive, in a game of odds.

Those of us who report and comment, provide this coverage at home and abroad, have the privilege of treating these very public men as human beings, with unquestionable athletic ability and loyalty to their fans.

The season ends charged with emotion, a season that made the island one big stadium. Granma brought us this far. Although we would have liked to see the team play Puerto Rico in the final, we should feel well represented by these players.

At the hardest moment, right after the loss, Frank Camilo Morejón and Frederich Cepeda said, speaking with Granma, that they believed the team had played good baseball. They both used practically the same phrase, saying, "We came to help," and, "We want to help."

I would only add that we must continue thinking about our baseball that is capable of filling stadiums in any province during the National Series - improving it on all fronts, from supporting players to mounting games as the events we want them to be. If we can count on the help of Frank and Frederich, on the players, in this effort, we can continue scoring runs and win the game.