Historic Documentary Airs on Cuban Television

IanpadronA landmark off-field event occurred in Cuban baseball on Saturday, January 12, 2008, with the airing on Havana local television of Ian Padron’s remarkable documentary film entitled "Fuera de la Liga" ("Outside the League"). This 58-minute video was produced by Padron between January 2002 and April 2003, with the bulk of the scenes shot in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Pinar del Rio during the course of the 2001-2002 Cuban League National Series. Ian Padron is one of the most decorated of young Cuban documentary filmmakers (Padron is seen here at the right in the attached photo) and this work is without question the most revealing, vivid, truthful and informative video ever to treat post-revolution Cuban League baseball.

The thrust of Padron’s masterpiece is a demonstration of the passionate fandom among both rooters and ex-players for Cuba’s most popular ballclub, the Industriales team of Havana. A mixture of interviews (with fans, players, and Cuban artists), off- and on-field baseball action (including practices, games, road trips, and dugout, bus and hotel scenes with the Industriales players) from the 2002 season, historic rare archive footage of Cuban baseball from the 1960s-1990s, and interviews with former stars (and later "defectors" to the majors") Orlando Hernandez (an Industriales ace of the 1990s), Kendry Morales (CL rookie of the year in 2002), and Rene Arocha (one-time pitcher for Habana Province). The interviews with El Duque and Arocha were filmed in the US after both had left Cuba.

This film captures like no other the beauties and enthusiams (as well as the warts) of Cuban League baseball, exposing both the hard conditions under which Cuban Leaguers travel and play and also the unrelenting passion for the game on the island that is never quite matched by the North American professional (big leagues) version of the sport. The film is unquestionably positive about the Cuban national pastime and was originally made under the auspicious of the Cuban film ministry. Once produced, however, the work was repeatedly rejected by Cuban authorities for showing at the annual December Havana international film festival–likely due primarily to the criticisms of some of the interviewees concerning the flaws in Cuban baseball (poor economic conditions affecting the on-field games, lack of team caps and other collectible memorabilia for fans, and often poor playing and training conditions). Another red flag for Cuban authorities was the appearance of so-called "defectors" Hernandez, Arocha and Morales, who all eventually abandoned the Cuban system for big league careers.

After an extensive letter-writing campaign from the Cuban artistic community (filmmakers and writers), the Cuban government recently relented (after again banning the documentary from last December’s film festival) and allowed showing on a one-time basis on local Havana television. The film has not yet been aired nationalwide in Cuba. And it would certainly be a mistake in concluding that its broadcast in any way signals any movement of Cuban baseball authorities toward opening up "business" with the US professional leagues. In this author’s view there exists no work that better captures the spirit, glories and realities of Cuban baseball than "Fuera de la Liga" and this is a work that everyone interested in exploring Cuban baseball should definitely see. (Since the impact of the film is largely visual, it can indeed be enjoyed by fans who do not speak Spanish.) American viewers will apparently soon actually have an oportunity to view Padron’s remarkable work since we are planning to re-air the documentary on our www.baseballdecuba.com website. Interested potential viewers should keep checking that site for forthcoming annoucements on precisely when the film will be shown.

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