Havana. October 25, 2007
BASEBALL WORLD CUP
BY ANNE-MARIE GARCIA
THERE is no doubt that Cuba will be presenting a balanced team at the next Baseball World Cup, to be held in Chinese Taipei beginning November 6, and is firmly set on winning its 26th title in this competition, affirmed Yulieski Gourriel, one of the island’s most talented ballplayers.
"We have a well-balanced team, with a deep pitching staff, a high-quality long-distance offense, and an airtight defense," the third baseman commented. "We’re all feeling really motivated, and personally, I’m hoping to win my third World Cup," he added.
During a training session at the Latinoamericano Stadium in Havana, the 22-year-old Gourriel, who shone in the first World Classic tournament —where Cuba took second place—, said he expects the team will face professional players at the World Cup.
"I like competing against the majors, because it helps improve our level of playing," he said, adding that "this World Cup is the prelude to the Olympic Games, which are an athlete’s ultimate goal, and for the second World Classic."
THE ISLAND WINS FIRST ALBA LEAGUE TOURNEY
Cuba beat Venezuela 9-1 in the final of the first Latin America and Caribbean League tournament, silencing the doubters who were questioning why the island’s team had lost two successive games against the Venezuelans.
With homeruns by first baseman Alexander Mayeta and second baseman Héctor Olivera —the first with bases loaded— the Cubans showed off their powerful offense in Mariara Stadium, in the capital of the state of Carabobo.
Right-hander Jonder Martínez was the winning pitcher of that game, after relieving Eriel Sánchez in the fifth inning, but in the seventh inning, he needed help from Pedro Luis Lazo, the Cuba team’s top closing pitcher. On the losing side was Teoildo Parras, who was joined on the mound by four other relief pitchers.
"Nobody should be worried; we’re going to win," affirmed manager Rey Vicente Anglada after the two losses they suffered, 2-7 and 1-5, in the elimination round against the home team.
Anglada, who was the manager of the national team that won the Pan-American Title in Rio de Janeiro, said that the games in Venezuela "fit like a glove" for perfecting details of their preparations leading up to the World Cup.
Moreover, he noted, before the tournament in Taipei, the Cubans would be playing friendly games in Italy and in Taipei itself, which would enable them "to reach a beneficial level of training to meet the goal of returning home victorious."
The experienced manager said that in leading up to the World Cup, he had "no worries, either about our offense strength or covering all the positions; the team is very complete and has only one goal: go win."
Referring to his pitching staff, Anglada commented that he has "left-handers like never before; all six are in excellent shape, and demonstrating that they can be winners in complicated situations."
They include: Pedro Luis Lazo, the top closer, and José Angel García, also prepared for that function; Yunieski Maya, Yadel Martí, Arley Sánchez, Elier Sánchez and Norberto González as intermediate relief; and Jonder Martínez, Vladimir Baños, Adiel Palma, Yulieski González and Aroldis Chapman as openers.
Out of the 27 players who participated in the ALBA League (24 will play in the World Cup), 14 did not play in the 2005 World Cup in Holland, which Cuba won. These are: catcher Yosvani Peraza, first baseman Alexander Mayeta, shortstop Luis M. Navas, second baseman Héctor Olivera, outfielders Yohenis Céspedes, Alfredo Despaigne and Giorvis Duvergel, and pitchers Vladimir Baños, Jonder Martínez, Arley Sánchez, Aroldis Chapman, Elier Sánchez, Yadel Martí and José A. García.
The Asian countries’ teams are "always tough rivals," Anglada noted, while the United States is a country with a long tradition in this sport.
In the World Cup, Cuba will be part of Group B, with Germany, Australia, Canada, Korea, Holland and Venezuela. Group A comprises South Africa, Spain, the United States, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama and Chinese Taipei.