The new structure adopted and the controversial call for players hired in Japan mark the start of the second phase of the tournament.
Havana, Cuba - The second phase of the baseball season in Cuba starts today with one against all among the six teams that, after adding to their ranks five players of the ten eliminated ninths, will begin the fight for a throne that was left vacant with the early and surprising elimination of the Alazanes de Granma, monarchs in the past two editions.
The Tigers of Ciego de Ávila (28-17), the Cubs of Holguín (28-17), the Azucareros de Villa Clara (27-18) and the Lumberjacks of Las Tunas (27-18) -with that order in the classification - They secured their direct advance to the post-season thanks to their performance in the regular calendar.
Meanwhile, the Industrials de La Habana (26-19), capitalist cast that unleashes love and hatred throughout the island, managed to be included among the survivors, thanks to a spectacular triumph over the Mayabeque Hurricanes in a series of wild cards that he gave the pass to the second phase. The Gallos de Sancti Spíritus (25-20) returned to the Cuban elite to complete the six graceful teams.
Only two of the novenas that were in this phase last season repeat this year. So, changed was the configuration of this year, that only Las Tunas and Industrials repeat the experience, while teams like Matanzas and Pinar del Río, with salaries markedly superior to that of some of the survivors, were knocked out.
On the opposite side were combined as the Villa Clara, who had a terrible season last year and now led the departments of pitching and defense; or the Holguin, who despite an uncertain start to the campaign, managed to straighten the course, and did not close as leader because she lost her particular series to the Avilanian tigers.
The first phase consisted of 45 games that went down in history as one of the most closely fought sections under the structure that has dominated the last six editions, as the four direct qualifiers, as well as the teams that had to fight for the two wild cards, Were defined with the celebration of the games postponed by rain, something that was not necessary for other tournaments.
This season premieres a novelty that has caused much controversy among fans, as the teams that are still fighting for the crown drag of the first phase the trademark in the first phase among the six classifieds. That is, the record of the first phase is modified and only the results among the classified are considered. That measure, for example, took Ciego de Ávila out of the top of the ranking and sent the Holguin Eros to sixth place.
The new table of positions presents the current runner-up, Las Tunas, at the top with a 10-5 mark, followed by Villa Clara (9-6), Ciego de Ávila (8-7), Sancti Spiritus (7-8), Industrial (7-8) and Holguín (4-11).
In this scenario, the last three teams will have to play impeccably to reach the semifinals, which has not made fun of the fans, who liked the clean slate in the second phase.
We have gone through many structures and I think that the one who seeks finds. The moment must come when we find a structure that matches what all the fans want, which is that the Cuban ball grows, retiree Rafael Frandín told El Nuevo Día, one of the many who animates every day The Hot Corner of Havana's Central Park, where fans meet spontaneously to discuss baseball, the national sport.
And, as almost everyone gathered at the emblematic sports club, he expressed his disagreement with the new structure of the tournament. It's an invention that will not work. Leandro Vera, 40, who lives on the Isle of Youth, called on Cuban baseball authorities to listen to the opinions of fans before making decisions of that kind. "There has to be a debate and not just reach a structure from the National Commission. The town knows about baseball, has seen all generations, and needs to be heard, "he said.
Beside him, Yodenis Castillo, who was also born on the Isle of Youth, but follows the Industrials since he began to see baseball at the age of eight, points out that he continues to play Cuban baseball fervently, despite the new format and the slump. quality registered several years ago.
It is not a secret that the Cuban ball has lowered its level, which is bad, but it is what we have and we are going to move forward with that.
Be bad or good, I like the ball, he said.
From their point of view, the rivalry in the first part of the tournament has attracted the attention of fans, even though it is not related to an improvement in quality. It's because the league is even. We have many players out of the country and the figures are already going from the school, do not come to the National Series. How will there be quality if they are taking it? He argued.
There are no official figures, but it is estimated that over 300 players have left Cuba in the last five years looking for an opportunity to reach the Major Leagues. The cases of Víctor Mesa and his brother Víctor Mesa Jr., who signed contracts with the Marlins of Miami this week, are the most recent sample of the bleeding experienced by the Cuban ball, afflicted by the blockade or economic embargo of the United States and by internal policies that prevent Antillean players from signing contracts in a normal way to be professionals on American soil.
To stop the bleeding, the Cuban authorities reached collaboration agreements with the Professional League of Japan, as well as other summer leagues in the area, so that players receive pay as professionals, without having to leave Cuba and give up playing in the National Series or represent the so-called "Cuba Team".
The players who play in Japan, have the option of not playing in the national tournament, to avoid exhaustion, given the length of the Japanese championship, which clashes with the interests of the organizers of the Series.
In order to concentrate the quality of the talent that has remained at home, the Cuban baseball authorities resorted a few years ago to the segmentation of the tournament and to the reinforcement of the classified teams, something that found some resistance of the fans in its beginnings, but that is already seen as normal.
Reinforcements are very necessary. It is not the same 16 teams that 6, there is more quality, more concentration of strength, said Frandin. But this time, the formula of the reinforcements caused controversy, because the organizers of the tournament decided to include in the draw the six players hired by teams from the Professional League of Japan, without having the opinion of those involved. The rejection of Alfredo Despaigne, the highest scorer in Japan and fourth bat of the National Team, to join because of physical and mental fatigue to the National Series, burned the baseball landscape, especially among the most hardcore fans.
Of all this, the only thing I do not like is that when the players who are in Japan come, take one of the selected ones. The one who comes from Japan even arrives without the desire to play, because he is tired, what he wants is to enjoy with the family. Practically these players do not rest, because the ball in Japan is longer than the Cuban one. If he says that he is tired, that he comes with physical and mental exhaustion, he comes to Cuba to relax, to share with family and friends. He should not be forced to play the National Series without motivation, said Frandín.
Today's agenda presents matches between Industrials and Villa Clara, Las Tunas and Ciego de Ávila, and Sancti Spiritus-Holguín, a day that will give the starting shot to the format experiment that has given so much to talk about, and the search for a new national champion and the representative of Cuba in the next Caribbean Series in February 2019.