Cuban young players dream of big US tournaments According to Reuters

© Reuters. Baseball fan Kevin Kindelan, 8, practices with his father on their roof in Havana, Cuba, June 14, 2022. Kindelan says he wants to play for Cuba’s national baseball club . REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini

By Nelson Acosta

(Dan Tri) – Kevin Kindelan, 8, Cuban, a hot foot smasher for the Central Havana junior baseball team and teammate and first-class athlete Leoni Venego, 7 years old, all dream. become a star.

Kindelan says he wants to play for Cuba’s national baseball club, but Venego, recovering from a big hit and miss in a recent practice session, admits he is aiming to get in. a bigger prize.

“I want to go to Major Leagues and be like Yuli Gurriel,” he said, referring to an all-star Cuban first-place runner for the Houston Astros, a baseball team in the United States that is Cuba’s long-time rival on the other side. north. .

Success in baseball, the Cuban nation of yesteryear and a favorite pursuit of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is increasingly being measured beyond its borders. That reflects a broader exodus of Cubans from the stagnant communist-run island ravaged by economic and social crisis.

Official figures show Cuba’s economy shrinking 11% in 2020 and has only inched up since then, official figures show, hampered by the pandemic and continued to be held back by the embargo Cold War era of the United States. Long lines of food, medicine and fuel have led to a near-unprecedented exodus of more than 157,000 Cubans to the United States since October, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Francis Romero, a Cuban baseball expert and book author living in Florida, said. “No baseball league… can survive that.”

And many young players are no longer motivated by communist ideology or love of country, Romero told Reuters, a force that has helped propel Cubans to great achievements over the decades, including medals baseball in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004.

“Players used to wait a long time to migrate, to prove themselves. Now they leave at 16 or 17,” he said. “Many Cuban players no longer fit into the ideology or political lines of the government.”


At the “Ponton” ballpark in the heart of Havana, with its muddy pitch and weeds covered with foul road, some of Cuba’s youngest players practice, making their first exhilarating spins. , play catch and clap. – escaping the impact of the severe economic crisis in Cuba – or the lure of the emigration wave, says youth team coach Irakly Chirino, a former Cuban national league player who started his career. his career in Ponton, said.

“Here, we don’t have gloves, clubs, shoes, or even balls to play with … and when we do, they are too expensive,” Chirino told Reuters on the sidelines of a late spring training session.

A lack of supplies has led to once-enthusiastic soccer players using less equipment, the sport enjoyed elsewhere in Latin America, or dreaming of playing football abroad since then. as a child, Chirino said. “Don’t fool yourself… we’re losing our best players before they make it to the national series,” he said. It’s a bittersweet reality for coach Nicolas Reyes, 73, who has seen more than a dozen of his “former students” sign in leagues outside of Cuba.

“They started with me and now they’re in () Major tournaments. That makes me proud,” he said.

But he admits that the pull of fame and fortune increasingly outweighs the love of country.

“When I play, it’s not like that. You will never betray your country.” AT HOME Juan Reinaldo Pérez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, told Reuters that the continued talent pool – including those leaving Cuba – continues to nurture hope for the future of Cuban baseball.

“We are a country with a baseball tradition and that is continuing to grow,” he told Reuters.

Cuba’s limited resources, he said, are now focused on keeping the budding players out.

In May, the Cuban federation signed an agreement with the World Baseball Federation (WBSC) to officially allow Cubans to sign to professional leagues around the globe without having to leave their homeland or their nationality.

A similar agreement, signed with Major League Baseball in the United States in 2018, would grant Cubans the same rights. Brushed off by US President Donald Trump before it could be implemented, many Cubans with grand alliance aspirations feel they have no choice but to leave.

Guillermo Carmona, manager of Cuba’s Industriales group, told Reuters the lack of such an agreement continues to be a major obstacle to keeping talent at home.

“Without a doubt, {that deal} is a huge motivator {for our players},” Carmona said. “Now, many people have left us.”

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