Granma.– Just as happened to Alfredo Despaigne in Santiago de Cuba, Roel Santos was rejected at the provincial sports academy for being “too small,” despite some spectacular fielding in his debut for the school team.
The “problem” of his size to one side, the young boy who a year before, at the age of nine, was brought by community sports facilitator Juan Luis Yuri to the Academy in the neighborhood of Miramar, shone on the field.
He was so eager to play, that even the fact that there wasn’t a single glove for left-handed pitchers in the whole area didn’t stop him. Determined and full of passion, he would play with a glove meant for right handed pitchers; taking off to pitch, throwing faster than any of his right-handed team mates.
“If I’ve got this much energy now, imagine what I was like as a kid. No matter how many times they told me no, I would never give up,” stated Roel.
He played baseball throughout elementary and high school, and while studying to become a thermoelectric technician, perhaps the profession that most accurately represents his explosive and hotheaded character.
After graduating he played in four provincial tournaments and was finally picked up by the Academy. Then he participated in the Development League which was held parallel to the 48th National Series, debuting for Granma in the final of the event after the second World Baseball Classic.
However, he experienced another setback the following year: “They didn’t call me for the pre-selection, but I wasn’t fazed, it made me stronger. I spent all my time playing baseball and during the second provincial championship I was top batter, home run, force run and run scorer. I proved myself, and joined the team for the 50th National Series, and have never left.”
As first batter, Roel Santos has continued to attract attention with his fast, effective batting, looking to put the ball in play, even with just a touch; as well as for his fearless base runs and broad coverage of center field.
In seven years he has grown and so too has his trophy case, which currently contains three national titles – one playing as a reserve for Pinar del Río and the two most recent as a member of the Granma team – a Central American championship, and a Caribbean Series crown with Pinar del Río in 2015, all of which are proof of his consistent quality performance.
On his return from the recently concluded Caribbean Series, Roel spoke to Granma about some of the keys to his success.
“I try to keep improving, take something away from every opportunity. I’m the same old Roel, focused on winning, keeping the pitcher guessing, being an inspiration for the team, batting, running and fielding as if I were the artist of a show that I really enjoy,” he noted.
“I’ve perfected my skills to strengthen my base, make an extra run, score no matter what, and refine the positive experiences I’ve had in Cuba, Canada and Japan. I’ve improved on stealing bases. I stole 30 in the 54th Series. When I returned from Canada I had improved and after coming back from Japan I felt that I had matured even more. There they play fast baseball, focused on making contact with the ball, something you perfect with daily practice. I learned a lot in Canada as the athletes, members of the Triple A teams in the Major Leagues, like Jonathan Malo from the Mets, and Kalian Sams from the Netherlands, helped me. That year I stole 24 bases in the Can-Am and another 24 in the 45th National Series after I returned to Cuba.
Talk to us about your last attempt at stealing a base in Jalisco…
I don’t regret it; the team’s reaction was more one of surprise that criticism, because it didn’t mean anything, it neither drew us level nor put us ahead. I was annoyed that I hadn’t scored in two games. I didn’t want to set them up for a double play, I ran and was caught out. I had made it to base four times. When I don’t score I don’t feel good, because stealing bases and making it to the home plate is my job as first batter.
Have you considered cheating the plate?
I’ve wanted to and had the opportunity, but I’ve taken the decision not to do it.
Are you satisfied with Granma’s performance in the Caribbean Series?
This year it was great to show that our 2017 win wasn’t a fluke, but that we fought for and deserved it. That win and the championship where we faced Pinar del Río have been the best two play-offs, but the first title I won with Granma is my favorite, because it was the realization of a dream I had held for a long time and finally achieved.
Any interest from international clubs…
I was approached by three Mexican clubs in Jalisco, but I’m still waiting for an offer from Japan, where I hope to return to play that small, fast kind of baseball that’s so representative of my style. If I can’t, it doesn’t matter, I’ll continue playing, because I live for baseball, it runs in my veins, I never give up or tire.