Reflections of Fidel
In the game between the Japanese and Cuban teams that concluded today at close to 3:00 a.m., we were unquestionably defeated.
The organizers of the Classic decided that the three countries holding the first three places in world baseball should confront each other in San Diego, including Cuba arbitrarily in the Asian group despite the fact being the Caribbeans that we are.
However, I doubt that any team from the West can defeat Japan and Korea within the group of competitors who will be playing in Los Angeles in the next three days. With their quality, only one of the two Asian countries will decide who takes the first and second places in the Classic.
What mattered to the organizers was to eliminate Cuba, a revolutionary country that has heroically resisted and has remained undefeated in the battle of ideas. Nevertheless, one day we shall again be a dominant power in that sport.
The excellent team representing us in the Classic, made up mostly of young athletes, is without a doubt a genuine representation of the finest athletes in our country.
They competed with great courage; they didn’t lose heart and sought victory right up to the last inning.
The line-up, suggested from Cuba by the leading bodies with expert advisors, was good and inspired confidence. It was strong both offensively and defensively. They had a good reserve of pitching talent and strong hitters, in the event of the changing circumstances of a game requiring it. By applying the same concepts, they defeated and dominated the powerful Mexican team.
I should point out that the team leadership in San Diego was abysmal. The old criteria of well-trodden paths prevailed against a capable adversary who is constantly innovating.
We must learn the relevant lessons.
Among all the sports, baseball today is the most capable of sparking off expectations given the enormous variety of situations that could arise and the specific role of each one of the nine men on the diamond. It has a reputation everywhere as a genuinely emotive show. Even though the stadiums fill up with fans, nothing is comparable to the images captured by the cameras. Baseball would seem to have been devised to be transmitted by that media. Television heightens that interest by going into great detail about every action. It even offers the possibility of seeing the stitching and rotation of a ball pitched at a speed of 100 miles per hour, a ball rolling along a white line or being caught in the glove of a defender one tenth of a second before or after the runner’s foot touches base. I can think of no other sport that could compete with such a variety of situations, except chess, where the activity ceases to be muscular and becomes an intellectual one, something impossible to televise.
In Cuba, where we practice almost all sports and have numerous amateur players, baseball has become a national passion.
We have rested on our laurels and we are now paying the consequences. Korea and Japan, two countries that are geographically at a good distance from the United States, have invested abundant economic resources into that imported, or imposed, sport.
Development of that sports activity in those two Asian nations obeys their own distinctive characteristics. Their inhabitants are hard-working, self-sacrificing and tenacious.
Japan, a developed and wealthy country with more than 120 million inhabitants, has devoted itself to developing baseball. Like everything within the capitalist system, professional sports are big business, but national will has imposed rigorous standards on their professional players.
Cuban players who have worked in Japan are very familiar with the standards imposed. The salaries paid to professionals in the U.S. Major Leagues are logically much higher than in Japan, a country which, for its part, possesses the most powerful professional league after that of the U.S. No professional Japanese player can go one to play in the U.S. Major Leagues, or in any other foreign country, until he has played in the Japanese national league for eight years. For that reason, none of the members on its international team is under 28 years old.
Training sessions are incredibly rigorous and methodical. They have devised technical methods to develop the reflexes required by every player. Every day, batters practice with hundreds of balls pitched by left- or right-handers. As for the pitchers, they are obliged to throw 400 balls every day. It they commit any error during the game, they have to pitch another 100. They do it with pleasure, as if it were a form of self-punishment. In that way, they acquire a notable muscle control that obeys orders sent by their brains. That is why their pitchers’ ability to place balls exactly where they want them amazes everyone. Similar methods are applied to all of the activities each of the athletes must carry out in the positions that they defend and in their activities as batters.
Athletes are developing with similar characteristics in the other Asian country: the Republic of Korea, which has already become a powerhouse in professional world baseball.
The Asian players are not as physically strong as their western rivals. Neither are they as explosive. But strength alone is not enough to defeat the reflexes that their players have developed; nor can explosiveness alone compensate for the methodology and sangfroid of their athletes. Korea has tried to find heavily-built men capable of hitting with more force.
Our hopes were based on the patriotic dedication of our athletes and the fervor with which they defend their honor and their people, starting with a reserve with several times, even dozens of times, fewer human resources in comparison, for example, with Japan, discounting from those resources those of weak conscience who let themselves be bribed by our enemies. But this is not enough to maintain our supremacy in baseball. We have to apply methods that are more technical and scientific in developing our athletes. Our country’s excellent educational and sports base allows that.
We currently have enough young pitchers and batters with magnificent athletic qualities. In a nutshell, we have to revolutionize the methods for the preparation and development of our athletes, not just in baseball, but in all the sports disciplines.
Our national team should be returning home in the next few hours. Let us receive them with all the honors that their exemplary performance merits. They are not the ones responsible for the errors that led them to the adverse result. We are the ones to blame, because we were not able to correct our errors in time.
Fidel Castro Ruz
March 19, 2009