With MLB’s post-season tournament now under way one is reminded that baseball’s “Real World Series” (officially the World Baseball Classic) is now less than six months down the road. If the WBC may not yet be on the radar screen of many North American partisans, it is certainly already front and center in baseball-mad Cuba. A new Cuban League National Series format will allow for almost six weeks of dead time in the middle of the upcoming National Series #48 (February 15-March 29), a step designed to accommodate national team preparations, training and participation in WBC II. While it is not at all clear yet how and when MLB stars representing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Venezuela, Japan, Korea, Team USA and other WBC contenders will be selected and trained, the Cubans already seem to have their game plans well in order for the March 5 Pool B opener in Mexico City. Whether or not such early focus gives any advantage to the Cubans may well be an open question at present. But at least one other factor does seem to favor a Cuban return to the late March final round in Los Angeles and that factor is nothing less than the already announced tournament pairings.
Cuba seems by all measures to have drawn the most favorable assignment among all the bracket positions. In opening round Pool B play the opponents for the 2006 runner-ups will be Mexico, Australia and South Africa, meaning that Cuba needs only to defeat the latter two normal also-rans to reach Round 2 competitions in San Diego. Meanwhile the Americans, Canadians and Venezuelans will clash head-to-head in Toronto with one of the three facing certain early elimination.
If Team USA survives Toronto it faces a second round Miami venue that will likely include Puerto Rico, the Dominicans, and once again Venezuela. Only two of these four major contenders will earn a ticket to Dodger Stadium. Let’s assume that Cuba and Mexico move on to San Diego from Mexico City; that tandem then will be matched on the west coast with likely Asian qualifiers Japan and Korea. Under this scenario, Cuba can reach the semis by eliminating Mexico and one of the two Asian powers. Not an easy task, admittedly, but seemingly a far less demanding road than the one faced by the Americans or any of the other Western Hemisphere powerhouse ball clubs.
Round 2 in Miami will presumably match Team USA, Puerto Rico, the Dominicans and Venezuela (with the Canadians only a dark horse possibility). Only two of those four juggernauts will survive. I am certain that the Cuban brain trust would rather take their changes versus, say, Mexico and Korea, over the possibility of being matched with the Americans and three MLB-loaded Caribbean zone rivals. And then there might just be an added element at play here. Could the announced departure of Victor Mesa to Mexico for the coming winter season (remember that Victor was the top advanced scout with the Cuban contingent in Beijing) signal that Cuban scouting of the rival Mexicans is already well underway?