Prepared to defend its Olympic crown and avenge its recent surprise World Cup loss to Team USA, Cuba’s Baseball Federation has just announced the 43-man roster now in training for the upcoming Beijing Games. It is from this expanded roster that the final Beijing club will be selected later this summer. This roster will also provide the lineups for the Cuba A and Cuba B squads scheduled to square off next month at Sancti Spiritus (June 5-15) in the renewal of the once-popular Jose Huelga Tournament, as well as the Cuban team that will participate in the Haarlem Baseball Week Tournament (Netherlands) in early July (4-13). Team Cuba will also take part in a number of additional Asia-based tune-up exhibitions on the eve of the Olympics competitions at summer’s end. This year’s Team Cuba edition contains few real surprises, features few departures from the November 2007 Taiwan World Cup contingent, and boasts the expected balance of powerful hitting and masterful pitching that normally marks the big-league-level squads representing the perennial world champions.
The biggest eye-opener on this year’s edition of Team Cuba is probably the manager, as Santiago’s Antonio Pacheco (pictured) has been named to replace Rey Anglada (Industriales). Anglada headed up last year’s Pan Am Games and World Cup clubs after replacing current commissioner Higino Velez on the heels of the March 2006 World Baseball Classic. Pacheco–a former national team star performer of the 1990s, Cuba’s career base hits leader, and manager of the 2007 and 2008 league champion Santiago de Cuba Avispas (Wasps)–had been subject of much speculation before last summer’s international campaign. It was believed in many quarters within Cuba last summer that Pacheco would head the 2007 edition of Team Cuba, but minor health problems kept Pacheco on the sidelines and Rey Anglada on the bench. With three National Series championships to his credit in only four years at the head of the powerful Santiago club, Pachedo seems the logical choice to now inherit the reins of Cuba’s polished veteran national team lineup.
The Cuban lineup itself is packed with veteran pitching, headed by Pedro Luis Lazo (fresh off a new Cuban League record for career pitching victories) and Norge Vera (who seems only to improve with age and who returns to the national team scene after a surprise absence last fall in Taiwan). Heading up the offense will be 2008 National Series MVP and home run champ, Alexei Bell, as well as such national team standbys as Freddie Cepeda, Yulieski Gourriel, Eduardo Paret, Ariel Pestano, six-time batting champion Osmani Urrutia, and 2006 BA leader Michel Enriquez (the only National Series batting champ outside of Urrutia since 2000). The return of Enriquez to the national team scene is itself a mild surprise, since the Isla de la Juventud star sat out all of the 2007 national and international campaigns due to a severe disciplinary infraction (an off-field assault on a league umpire). In a more detailed article about the recent national team selection (to be posted on www.baseballdecuba.com) I will be speculating further on the implications of Enriquez’s return to the potent Cuban lineup.
The complete Team Cuba 2008 roster announced on Sunday is as follows:
Catchers: Rolando Merino (Santiago), Yosvani Peraza (Pinar del Rio), Eriel Sanchez (Sancti Spiritus), Ariel Pestano (Villa Clara), Osvaldo Arias (Cienfuegos), Yenier Bello (Camaguey).
Infielders: Alex Mayetta (Industriales), Yoandy Garlobo (Matanzas), and Jose Julio Ruiz (Santiago) at first base. Hector Olivera (Santiago) and Yoilan Cerce (Guantanamo) at second base. Eduardo Paret (Villa Clara), Luis Miguel Navas (Santiago) and Yadil Mujica (Matanzas) at shortstop). Yulieski Gourriel (Sancti Spiritus), Michel Enriquez (Isla de la Juventud) and Ronnier Musteller (Santiago) at third base.
Outfielders: Alexei Bell (Santiago), Freddie Cepeda (Sancti Spiritus), Giorvis Duvergel (Guantanamo), Yoandry Urgelles (Industriales), Yoennis Cespedes (Granma), Alfredo Despaigne (Granma), Osmani Urrutia (Las Tunas), Leonis Martin (Villa Clara).
Right-Handed Pitchers: Pedro Luis Lazo (Pinar del Rio), Norge Luis Vera (Santiago), Yunieski Maya (Pinar del Rio), Jonder Martinez (Habana Province), Yadier Pedroso (Habana Province), Vicyohandri Odelin (Camaguey), Ismel Jimenez (Sancti Spiritus), Alberto Bicet (Santiago), Yoelkis Cruz (Las Tunas), Miguel Lahera (Habana Province), Vladimir Garcia (Ciego de Avila), Luis Miguel Rodriguez (Holguin).
Left-Handed Pitchers: Yulieski Gonzalez (Habana Province), Aroldis Chapman (Holguin), Elier Sanchez (Camaguey), Adiel Palma (Cienfuegos), Ian Rendon (Industriales), Norberto Gonzalez (Cienfuegos).
Only one of the league’s sixteen ball clubs was left without a single representative on the 43-man roster–Havana’s perennial doormat, Metropolitanos. Among players surprisingly excluded were Industriales veteran outfielder Yasser Gomez (who batted .400-plus for much of the recent 2008 campaign and trailed only Garlobo and Villa Clara’s Martin in the individual batting race) and Pinar del Rio infielder Donald Duarte, a productive member of last summer’s Cuba B lineup. Also notable for his absence this time around is long-time national team outfield fill-in Carlos Tabares from Industriales, remembered especially for his game-saving catch in the 2004 Athens Olympic finale, and his game-saving throw in the crucial WBC round-two victory over Puerto Rico in San Juan.