HAVANA._ Long before the efforts to bring baseball into the Olympic Games´ program became known, the annals of sports history had recorded its inclusion in the first Pan American Games, hosted by Buenos Aires in 1951.
The passion for baseball in this region had opened the way for the sport of balls, strikes and home runs to be included in the program of the Buenos Aires games and the successive tournaments showered them with stimulating stories of Cuban teams in the vortex or –to say the least- as a point of reference.
The story of Cuban baseball may be told in as many ways as one may like or from any perspective, but there is always something categorical about it: In the Americas, Cuban baseball features irrefutable dimensions as it has traditionally topped all major competitions. As the forthcoming Toronto Pan American Games draw near, it is worth recalling that Cuba boasts 12 continental crowns, including 10 consecutive titles spanning almost four decades.
However, like all empires, the one built by Cuban baseball has also had its dark days and Canada has been present for almost each of them as a rival and, for most, as the venue.
Before the 1967 Winnipeg Pan Am Games, the Cuban team had grabbed two of the continental titles granted until then; the last conquered in Sao Paulo in 1963.
In 1967 The Cuban squad landed in Winnipeg with the explicit wish of renewing its top class.
Nevertheless, the US team won a 5-4 final game against right-handed pitcher Manuel Alarcón to close a play off that crushed the Cubans´ dream and gave the
winners their first and only title in Pan Am games.
Cuba did not lose again to the US in a final of any official tournament until the 1981 Inter-continental Cup.
From then on, the Cubans were the masters of baseball in the Americas and one could say they ruled with a strong hand.
In finals, the Cubans have beaten the US, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua and their victories sparked off spontaneous celebrations in all corners of this Caribbean island.
It was so until the games returned to Winnipeg, which hosted their 13th edition and at which professional players were first seen. Thus, in terms of quality and rivalry, the tournament was well above any other held until then.
In Winnipeg, Cuba lost to both the US and Canada –unbeaten until the semifinals and came close to losing the gold medal game, until the island´s team proved its class once again and took the title.
The crown was retained at the 2003 and 2007 games, giving further credit to Cuba´s top class baseball.
Now, months from the 2015 Toronto Games, Canada again represents a challenging venue for Cuban baseball.
Yes, because after having won the 2014 Veracruz Central American Games and the Caribbean Series, a return to the top position in continental baseball would be like a triple impact blow.
Should it happen, the Cubans would, firstly, recover the crown won by the Canadians in Guadalajara four years ago.
Secondly, they would be the champions in a tournament featuring 11 of the world´s 20 best teams.
Lastly, Cuba would win the titles in three important competitions –regardless of their level – to vindicate the quality of the baseball of a team that did not fair well in earlier international tournaments.Share on FB Share on TT