Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

March 26, 1999.


HAVANA - As of time of writing, Cuban fans are anticipating the first of two games between a local selection of players and the visiting Major League team, the Baltimore Orioles. The game is scheduled for Sunday, March 28 at the half-century old capital city stadium of El Cerro. It is anticipated that the 55,000 seats won't suffice to accomodate all who want to attend.

The last time a Major League team played our locals was in March of 1959; at that time the Los Angeles Dodgers were touring the island. The game has raised considerable interest and many expectations, 40 years after a Major League team has been seen in action in our country. Whatever the game's final score, it wiil help crumble the solid censorship by the official media about any professional baseball information, particularly from the United States, reportedly the best in the world.

Although the names have not yet been released, it is known 29 Cuban players are training for the mini-series. Our national baseball commisioner, Carlos Rodriguez, announced that such star players as Orestes Kindelan, Antonio Pacheco and German Mesa won't participate since their respective teams are still involved in the national championship series. Omar Linares, Cuba's best baseball player may not play due to his physical condition; likewise out with an injured right leg is Jose Ibar, a star pitcher.

According to Carlos Rodriguez, Cuba will field a team combining new and veteran talents, a statement already picked on, sarcastically, by the fans, who say: If the team loses, we can say we did not have our best players in; if we win, there is more than enough fodder for revolutionary "apologetics." For Cuba the March 28 game is akin to a military battle. On the Orioles side it is known that some important players will be missing: the legendary Cal Ripken Jr.,out because of his father's illness, also the Dominican Republic pitcher Juan Guzman, for personal reasons.

For that baseball game in Havana, more than 300 journalists have been credentialed, after intense scrutiny, before Cuban authorities would grant their visas. Those interested had to turn in detailed information to the secretary for Cuban Affairs office in Washington, Luis Fernandez: Which aspect of Cuban life did they plan to cover, being as specific as possible? Did they need a briefing beforehand from a Cuban government official? What's the media they represent? Do they have professional resumes? What is the name of any companion traveling to Cuba with them and why? What is anticipated length of stay?

In addition to these requisites, the journalists need considerable money. For each telephone connection to the United States they will need a $500 deposit; each call will cost $3 a minute. The credentials to cover the baseball game cost $60 apiece. It is not clear why such a restrictive approach. It seems as if, instead of covering a sports event, the reporters will visit secret military installations.

Meanwhile, the two contenders for the Cuban baseball title have already been selected for the final matches starting today, March 26. Santiago, representing Cuba's eastern region and the Industriales, its western side, will be holding a play-off for the winner of 4 out of 7 games. Both teams are considered well rounded by most experts, so predicting a winner is a difficult task.

To reach these finals Santiago won 4 games against Guantanamo, helped by the merciless batting of Gabriel Pierre who connected 10 out of 20 times at bat. They also counted on the excellent pitching of Norge Luis Vera, Wilson Lopez and Jorge Tissert. Meanwhile the "capital blues" had to win their seventh game against the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), besting the Youth players 4 to 3. The Youth team was the most sensational in the playoffs, going from a starting 10th position to the 3rd place.

The last game between the "Pineros" (Isle of Youth formerly was called Isle of Pines) and the Industriales was a heartbreaker. In front of 55,000 fans the Habaneros bested the Islenos 3 runs to 2, partially due to the pitching of Adrian Hernandez - no kin to "El Duque" - who became the most valuable player at the play-offs. Special mention is needed for the fantastic short-stop work by German Mesa, who made masterful defensive plays and had no errors in all of the play-offs.

Meanwhile, the 11 Cuban soccer players, in team Sur (South) 22, which will represent us at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada have shown great progress in their two matches against the powerful Costa Rica squad loaded with professionals. We tied them at one goal and won a 2nd match 2 to 1. It was a demonstration of modern soccer techniques, with magical "touching" and goal-scoring capacity.

Of special note, forward Ray Angel, only 19, scored 2 goals and has already been dubbed the Cuban Ronaldo.

Ivan Garcia, Cuba Free Press

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