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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

US Newspaper Distorts Farrakhan Visit to Cuba

by Circles Robinson

When the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper reported on the recently concluded trip of Louis Farrakhan to Cuba it deliberately tried to mislead its readers by allowing US government officials to discredit the Nation of Islam minister.

On the next to last day of his week long visit to Havana, Farrakhan and his delegation participated on the hour-and-a-half prime time Round Table, broadcast nationwide on Cuban TV and radio, something Black progressives could never have in the United States, even if they paid millions to try and buy the airtime.

Farrakhan explained on the show that after the Federal government’s failure in dealing with the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina, the Nation of Islam decided to organize ministries to assess the most pressing problems of Blacks, Latinos and poor people in general. This, he explained, is a reason why they decided to visit Cuba, “a country that is prepared to successfully face natural disasters, with a minimum loss of human lives.”

The minister told his Cuban audience that the victims of the storm are now scattered over 44 states and that Federal and New Orleans officials seem little concerned about their fate. He added that “real estate agents are taking advantage of the situation,” and since New Orleans was primarily populated by Blacks, “it appears that politicians do not want them to return.”

However, the Tribune-Review goes head over heals to allow the administration to try and deny what everybody with a television knows; that Black Americans and Latinos living in the Gulf States and especially New Orleans were totally, if not criminally abandoned, by the government in the onslaught and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"Going to Cuba to learn about emergency management would be akin to going down there to learn about democracy," the paper quotes Steve McCraw, former assistant director of the FBI, and Texas director of homeland security as claiming.

McCraw brags how US officials “were responsible for saving 11,000 lives,” although he doesn’t mention, and the newspaper doesn’t recall, the more than a thousand who died unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, Louis Farrakhan thanked the Cuban Baseball Federation for donating the funds it was to receive for its participation in the World Baseball Classic to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He said he would take action to make sure that the money reaches them, despite attempts of the Bush administration to detour the funds.

The Tribune-Review article, which pretends to be about Farrakhan’s trip to Cuba and his findings, then goes on to remind us that the United States does not have full diplomatic relations with Cuba, “a totalitarian state.”

The newspaper then echoes the US State Department stating: “the regime is desperate for American dollars to prop itself up.” What it doesn’t mention is that the Cuban government has successfully eliminated the US dollar from transactions on the island preferring other currencies like the Euro, British Pound and the Canadian Dollar. It also fails to inform its readers that the island is recovering from its 1990s recession experiencing a tourism boom and expanded trade and investment with Venezuela, China, Canada and other countries.

The Tribune-Review also fails to mention that the subject of its article, Louis Farrakhan, stated: “Cubans should be proud of their achievements and their perseverance in fighting those who try to oppress them,” in reference to the US government.

Speaking in Havana, the minister added, “We are witnessing times of global war, and those who promote war and violence should be defeated. Only when this happens will weapons be turned into plows.”

Farrakhan totally contradicts the Pittsburgh papers’ contentions by noting in his first hand account, “The American people will love the Cuban people once they get to know the truth that has been hidden by the US government through a media machinery that must be defeated.”

Another member of the delegation that visited Cuba, Arbar Muhammad, minister of Foreign Affairs of the Nation of Islam, commented on the group’s tour of several educational facilities including the Latin American School of Medicine, where thousands of scholarship students from some 20 countries including the US are studying. He said the visits exposed the group to positive experiences that they will take back to the United States to implement in different communities.

“We have learned a lot from what we have seen in Cuba, and now we have a model to follow,” said Nation of Islam Education Minister Conrad W. Worrill, who was particularly pleased by the visit to the Social Workers School, where he found “a revolutionary concept in the training of the students.”

Rasul Muhammad, minister of Science and Technology, stated that he had never seen a nation that paid more attention to people’s needs than Cuba, and he described the visit to the island as “extremely useful,” a far cry from the waste of time implied by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Japan Takes Gold, Cuba Silver in WBC

by Circles Robinson

Cuba’s team was literally an inch from losing in the bottom of the ninth of its opening game in the World Baseball Classic against Panama on March 8, and facing almost certain first round elimination.

Twelve days later it had defied all predictions and was in the finals after defeating three powerhouses packed with US Major League all-stars.

The final game against Japan was played Monday evening before a full stadium in San Diego, California, with fans waving both Cuban and Japanese flags and an entire country of baseball fans gathered at homes and public places to see the ballgame.

Independent of the outcome, 10-6 in favor of Japan, the two teams had already proven that their baseball leagues produce players of the highest caliber, having pushed aside baseball giants like the United States, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Yes, the US has been able to lure many of the world’s best athletes, professionals and artists from other countries, mainly for financial reasons. However, in the case of baseball, Asia and Latin America have just broken the myth of US superiority.

That doesn’t mean that MLB isn’t top caliber, of course it is. But instead, it is a reminder that the rest of the world exists and can compete. If it wasn’t because of money, most of those great foreign born Major Leaguers we saw in the Classic would be playing year round in their home country’s leagues and when called upon for the national team.


Less than two months before the tournament began the Bush administration backtracked on its prohibiting Cuba from participating, but there were several sports “experts” who said the island really didn’t want to play because its team couldn’t compete with the big boys.

President Fidel Castro surprised the cynics by saying “Yes of course we accept the challenge… Cuba will play… even though they have stolen many of our good players.”

And play they did, defeating Venezuela and Puerto Rico to get to the semifinals and the intimidating Dominicans to reach the finals.

On Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. virtually all of Havana and a live TV audience will be waiting for the parade that will take their team through the streets of the capital city.

Yes everybody wanted Cuba to win the final game, but nobody feels cheated and most agree that the second place represents one of the greatest feats in the country’s sports history.

On Monday one fan interviewed at the “hot corner,” where baseball is spoken around the clock in Havana’s Central Park, summed up popular sentiment before the game: “We are as professional as anybody. The difference is that they play for money and we play for the sport it.”


It was the first and last inning that gave Japan their victory. After the leadoff hitter was retired on a grounder, the team that led the WBC in batting jumped on Cuba’s starter Omari Romero and reliever Vicyohandri Odelin for four runs. By the time the dust cleared Norberto Gonzalez was on the mound as Cuba’s third pitcher.

In the bottom of the inning shortstop Eduardo Paret excited the Cuban fans with a leadoff homer to left, but hard-throwing Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka settled down and had little trouble through the fourth, while striking out five.

Leading 4-1, in the fifth inning the Japanese sluggers finally got to Norberto and managed two more runs on three straight hits, one a double by Ichiro Suzuki.

By the sixth Japan had submarine reliever Shunsuke Watanabe on the mound and the Cubans went to work to try and chip away at the lead. An error and three hits brought in two runs but Yoandry Garlobo, the teams WBC hitting sensation, grounded hard into a double play with two on and one out ending the rally.

Southpaw Adiel Palma kept the Japanese bats quiet retiring the first 11 batters he faced between the fifth and the eighth innings giving Cuba a chance to play catch up. In the bottom of the eighth Frederich Cepeda blasted a two-run homer to left and suddenly what looked like a runaway was 6-5.

Japan then brought in its star closer Akinori Otsuka, who got the final eighth inning outs in the wink of an eye on a roller to the mound and a fly to right. Cuba hoped to have one more chance to erase the one run deficit.

However, the top of the ninth proved similar to the top of the first, and Japan took a 10-5 lead, scoring four runs on four hits and two walks against four Cuban pitchers.

In the bottom of the ninth the Cubans showed they weren’t going to give up and with a lead off double by catcher Ariel Pestano and a one-out RBI single by Paret, made it 10-6. But Otsuka dug down into his bag of tricks and ended the game by striking out Michel Enriquez and Yulieski Gourriel. In all, the Cubans fanned nine times against the tough Japanese pitching.

So now the curtain has fallen on the World Baseball Classic, a tournament that provided lots of excitement and just plain good baseball. The next edition is tentatively set for 2009, but many, including Cuba, hope it will come sooner.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cinderella Cuba Meets Japan in WBC Finals

by Circles Robinson

After upsetting the Dominican Republic 3-1 on Saturday before over 41,000 fans in San Diego, Cuba is one game away from defying all predictions and winning the first World Baseball Classic.

When the tournament -- organized by US Major League Baseball—began, the United States and the Dominicans were the big favorites to win with Venezuela and Puerto Rico considered the closest challengers with a chance. Both Japan and Cuba were given little more than a prayer.

Now those two teams will meet in the one-game finals set for 6:00 p.m. California time on Monday.

Japan got its place in the finals by never giving up and beating South Korea 6-0 in the third but decisive match-up between the two Asian rivals on Saturday evening. A two-run homer by pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukidome broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and Hitoshi Tamura opened the eighth with a solo shot. Koji Uehara was the winning pitcher throwing seven scoreless innings.

Before both games, the eventual losers looked extremely difficult to beat. The Dominicans had already topped Cuba 7-3 in Round 2 and announced last year’s American League Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon as their starting pitcher. Korea, at 6-0, was the only undefeated WBC competitor with an incredible team ERA of just over one run per game.

In the Caribbean rematch, Colon was impossible to score on during six innings but so was Cuba’s Yadel Marti who stymied the all-star Dominican lineup on his breaking pitches into the fifth with only 3 hits, before giving way to reliever Pedro Luis Lazo.

Lazo accomplished exactly what he did against Venezuela six days earlier, leaving some of the major league’s top hitters talking to themselves. The stocky, towering right-hander held the Dominicans to five singles and struck out two including the game winning out.

The Dominicans had a moment of glory when they went ahead 1-0 on throwing error by Cuba’s star second baseman Yulieski Gourriel in the bottom of the sixth. But the lead didn’t last long, with Cuba’s offense coming through as they have done throughout the tournament.

Manager Manny Acta turned to his relievers to hold back the Cubans, but the Dominicans literally saw stars in an explosive 4-hit, three-run seventh inning.

Down 1-0, three Cuban players drove in the runs that would prove the difference and end the scoring. Frederich Cepeda got one RBI on a grounder to second; Osmani Urrutia hit the first pitch to center for a hit that drove in another; and Alexei Ramirez laced a sacrifice fly that provided the insurance run.

The Dominican Republic did mount a threat in the eighth with two runners on with one out, but Lazo, 34, shut them down, getting home run hitter David Ortiz to fly to right and Adrian Beltre on a liner to Cepeda in left.


Before Saturdays’ game, Dominican general manager Stan Javier told AP: “I don’t think we have to prove anything… I think we have the best players in the world if you check the numbers.”

The Puerto Ricans and Venezuelans could have said the same thing before facing Cuba but the island’s players and manager Higinio Velez had no intention of following the script.

“It all depends on the pitching, that is the key to Cuba, US baseball writer Peter Bjarkman told Prensa Latina before Saturday’s game. The sports expert who has visited Cuba on dozens of occasions added that Cuba has all the tools to pull off “one of the greatest surprises in history.”

The first time the two teams met on Sunday, March 12, Cuba pounded out 9 hits to the Dominicans 8, but two costly fielding errors allowed three unearned runs to score and wild pitching took care of the rest. For its part, Cuba blew several scoring opportunities including a bases loaded chance in the ninth.

But when the rematch came, those like Bjarkman, who know Cuban baseball, were aware that Cuba doesn’t lose twice to the same team.


By 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the streets of Havana and all of Cuba were deserted as the semifinal game with the Dominican Republic got underway. By 7:30 p.m. it was pandemonium. Huge roars rose up from bars, houses and apartment buildings. Blaring horns and conga drums blended with Cuban flags when the final out came.

There was almost nobody on the island that didn’t see the game, although it was not recommended for heart patients.

“There’s no excuses. We lost just like Team USA, like Canada,” Dominican pitcher Miguel Batista told the Toronto Sun.

The Dominicans all-star first baseman Albert Pujols told a Major League Baseball writer, Lazo “made some good pitches and threw a good slider on me, and he just came right at us.”

“There is no more talking, no more excuses. They played good baseball and beat us,” said Pujols.

Cuba’s designated hitter Yoandry Garlobo, who hit .524 in the Classic, his first international event, said: “We are all amateur players in Cuba, we don’t have anybody [on our team] playing outside of the country. Therefore, playing against the Major League Baseball players is the greatest victory for us.”

Garlobo, who went 3-for-4 on Saturday, commented on Cuba’s errors, “Obviously we were nervous but at the end, along the way, we got settled and tried to play better.”

“It was a wonderful show, what you saw on the field today,” said 26-year-old Yadel Marti. “This is a Cuban sport being played at its best.”

Marti, who pitched 12.2 scoreless innings in four WBC appearances, added, “We want to express our gratitude to the Dominican Republic for a wonderful game which was played here today. We made it to the semifinals, now we go on to the finals and we truly have to give it our best.”

Experts say pitching is 70 percent of the game and Dominican manger Manny Acta told MLB: “I can see why Cuba dominated the international competition. Their pitching is legit. They can throw guys out there every single day that can pitch in the big leagues. Their pitching is legit, and that’s why they beat us.”

Pedro Luis Lazo, the man that hogtied the Dominican stars in the later innings, told the press: “For all of us, it has been a matter of great pride to play against teams of this caliber. They are very good teams even though they’re not in the finals.”

As usual, Cuban manager Higinio Velez was also a gracious winner heaping praise on the Dominicans. When asked at the press conference about the finals, which would be against either Japan or South Korea, he predicted: “It will be a wonderful game. We know the Asians and how they play. They’re great players. They put everything onto the field, great effort, very similar to Latin American players.”


The World Baseball Classic has proven a big success for baseball fans around the globe. Just two months ago it had appeared the tournament would not even get off the ground due to the Bush administration’s attempt to ban Cuba, the tournament’s “mystery’ team, from playing.

After protests from Major League Baseball, the International Baseball Federation and the Puerto Rican Baseball Federation, the US government finally backed down and made an exception to its prohibition on educational, scientific, sports and cultural exchange with Cuba, paving the way for Play Ball.

To help the US find a loophole to its own blockade, Cuba offered to give all of the proceeds it earned to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Now, on Monday, when Cuba and Japan take the field at Petco Park in San Diego, there may be tens of thousands of underprivileged US citizens rooting for the Caribbean team. The Cuban prize money will be distributed by Major League Baseball as the agreed upon intermediary. The winner gets 10 percent of all net profits while the runner-up gets 7 percent.

Cuba could have used the funds to further develop its sports and recreation programs at home or in the dozens of other developing countries where it has sports trainers. Likewise, it could have provided even more scholarships for foreign students to its international sports college in Havana.

But then, Cuba has never played in international competitions with money on its mind. All the games are broadcast free without advertising and there is absolutely no commercial aspect to sports on the island.

While the Bush administration arrogantly refused to accept the 1,510 doctors and tons of medicines that Cuba offered to send to help out after the devastation from Hurricane Wilma in the Gulf States, this time the victims will get a chance to feel the Cuban solidarity with their cause, and baseball fans a chance to see a team with a lot of heart.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cuba to Storm San Diego for WBC Semifinals

by Circles Robinson

The movie “I Am Cuba” is a photography lovers delight, brought to the attention of the US alternative film scene by director Steven Spielberg. Now, “This is Cuban Baseball” is a story in the making of an amateur team that has shown big bucks are not the only factor in sports.

Cuba held on Wednesday night to defeat host Puerto Rico, 4-3, in a game full of tension that mounted by the inning. Before a sellout San Juan crowd, the Cubans earned one of two Pool 2 tickets to the one game semifinals of the World Baseball Classic in San Diego, California.

In its next hurdle towards the championship, Cuba faces the star-studded Dominican Republic on Saturday March 18.

A key to the game was Cuba’s ability to adjust to the pitching of Puerto Rican starter Dicky Gonzalez, who had faced them last Friday in a lopsided match lost by Cuba. Another big question was whether the Cuban pitchers, beginning with starter Ormari Romero, could stop the hard-hitting Puerto Ricans.

For those who have been following the WBC games it is no secret that as far as noise and enthusiasm goes, 20,000 Latin American fans on hand for the final game of the ”Caribbean Series”, within the WBC, might equal a hundred thousand in the United States, where baseball was born.


Cuba jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first after two walks and a couple sacrifice groundballs. A third walk gave them two on with two out, but Osmani Urrutia was unable to come up with a clutch hit.

As Cuba was battling to score its first run, reliever Yunieski Maya was shown on ESPN in the bullpen fanning starter Ormari Romero with a towel on the hot humid evening.

In the bottom of the inning, Puerto Rican leadoff hitter Bernie Williams tied the game in one swing to right. But Romero wasn’t perturbed and settled down to retire the second, third and clean up batters.

Cuba had another good chance to score in the second after hits by Ariel Pestano and Alexei Ramirez with one out. But Puerto Rican starter Dicky Gonzalez got shortstop Eduardo Paret to fly to left and Michel Enriquez grounder to third.

After an easy third inning when he struck out Ariel Borrero and Frederich Cepeda, Gonzalez ran into big trouble in the fourth, allowing two hits and a walk that loaded the bases with one out with lead off hitter Eduardo Paret at the plate. Jose Oquendo, the Puerto Rican manager, gave Gonzalez the hook and brought in Jose Santiago.

Santiago hit Paret forcing in a run. After Yoandry Garlobo was thrown out at home on a roller to third by Michel Enriquez, Yulieski Gourriel, Cuba’s star second baseman stepped into the batting box.

With one out and the bases loaded Gourriel hit a routine grounder to short but a throwing error by Alex Citron allowed two runs to score giving Cuba a 4-1 lead. Reliever Jose Santiago got out of the jam when he got cleanup hitter Ariel Borrero to hit a liner to left fielder Jose Cruz Jr.

Then, besides some rocky moments, the Cuban pitchers rose to the occasion to get the job done.

After digesting the home run he allowed to Bernie Williams, Cuban starter Ormari Romero came on strong, allowing only two singles through the fourth when he was relieved by Adiel Palma.

Palma pitched his way out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth, and a double play in the sixth erased a walk and retired the side. However, the left-hander received a double by Jose Valentine to lead off the seventh followed by a hit by Alex Citron. With first and third and nobody out Manager Higinio Velez went to the bullpen bringing in right-hander Yunieski Maya.

Puerto Rico got its second run on a fielders choice and a close call on what should have been a force play at second. Cuban manager Higinio Velez, usually known for his calm demeanor, sharply protested the decision at second and was thrown out of the game by the umpire.

Then Bernie Williams stepped up to face Maya with two on and still nobody out. An excellent double play from Gourriel to Paret to Borrero was followed by a walk making it two outs with runners on first and third and the score at 4-2.

In what looked like an inning that could sink Cuba, Carlos Beltran lined a hit to center driving in Puerto Rico’s third run. But all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez tried to score from first, hoping to tie the score, and was gunned down on a relay throw from Alexei Ramirez to Yulieski Gourriel to Ariel Pestano.

While Yulieski was held hitless in four at bats, the strike he threw to get Rodriguez at home was probably the biggest play of the game.

Cuba showed little at the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and Vicyohandri Odelin was brought in to pitch the eighth to try and protect a fragile one run lead.

After striking out Javy Lopez, Odelin got into a mess allowing three one out hits that loaded the bases. However shortstop Paret fielded a grounder by Luis Matos, touched second and got Alex Citron at first for a very timely double play to end the inning, ending the last scoring opportunity for Puerto Rico.

In the ninth. Odelin seemed to grow on the mound. He got Ruben Gotay on a liner to the pitcher, forced Bernie Williams to pop a foul fly caught by second baseman Yulieski Gourriel, and struck out Ivan Rodriguez to end the game.

It was an amazing win for Cuba and a startling loss for Puerto Rico.

While both teams wanted to win, the spirit of the Cuban players was evident from start to finish as the players on the bench almost never sat down to continually cheer on their team.

Ormari Romero was the winning pitcher going four innings and allowing three hits and one run. Dicky Gonzalez took the loss allowing all four of Cuba’s runs. Vicyohandri Odelin picked up a save. In all, Puerto Rico batted nine hits to Cuba’s six, which all came from the bottom of the batting order.

After the game, the Cuban and Puerto Rican players hugged each other on the field in an emotional end to an action packed game and a hotly contested series of good baseball among the four Caribbean sister nations playing in Round Two of the World Baseball Classic.

The Cubans and Puerto Ricans posed with each other for snapshots they themselves took to have as memories of what has been a fantastic tournament.


Cuban television has been showing virtually all the WBC games with programming going on into the wee hours of the morning to accommodate games played in California. On Wednesday turned Thursday, Cuban fans, too excited to sleep after their team’s win over Puerto Rico, watched the 2-1 South Korean victory over Japan in Pool 1.

A different aspect of the Cuban broadcasts is that all television and radio stations are without commercial advertising. The sports commentators used the frequent pauses to expand on their analysis of the game and the tournament, mixed with lively Cuban music.

With the qualifiers of Pool 2 decided (Dominican Republic and Cuba), the final Round 2 game in Pool 1 takes place on Thursday between the United States (1-1) and Mexico (0-2). The majority of Cuba will be watching.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mistakes Give Dominicans 7-3 Win Over Cuba

by Circles Robinson

When you give up eight walks, hit two batters, commit a balk, allow nine hits, make two fielding errors, and bat into three double plays, winning the game is pretty much out of the question.

Nonetheless, in its 7-3 loss to the Dominican Republic on Monday Cuba’s tying run was at bat with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth.

A called third strike to pinch-hitter Juan Carlos Pedroso by the fourth Dominican reliever, Fernando Rodney, brought an end to the game that saw Cuba down 7-0 by the sixth inning.

Odalis Perez got the win pitching 4.2 innings. He gave up three hits, walked one and struck out three. Vicyohandri Odelin took the loss going 2.1 innings and giving up three runs, two earned.

In all, Cuba used seven pitchers, all of which walked at least one batter. The Dominicans had runners on base in all but the second inning.

David Ortiz had a solo home run for the Dominican Republic in the fifth while Yulieski Gourriel did the same in the seventh to get Cuba on the scoreboard.

Cuban third baseman Michel Enriquez had a day he will quickly try to forget. The normally outstanding fielder and solid hitter made a costly two-run throwing error in the third and managed to hit into double plays in each of his first three at-bats. An error by first baseman Ariel Borrero in the sixth gave the Dominicans another run.

Both starting pitchers were pulled before they reached 50 throws and will be eligible to pitch in the semi-finals if their team makes it.

In the other Pool 2 World Baseball Classic game on Monday, Venezuela came alive with a two run homer by Endy Chavez in the fifth and a grand slam by Victor Martinez in the eighth to beat the previously undefeated Puerto Rico 6-0.

Carlos Zambrano, the Venezuelan starter, pitched four innings of two-hit, no-run ball and six relievers held the powerful Puerto Rican bats scoreless.

Now, all four Caribbean teams, Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are tied 1-1. The winners in the games on Tuesday between Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and Wednesday between Cuba and Puerto Rico will produce the Pool 2 qualifiers that will head for San Diego and the semi-finals on March 18.

Cuba’s Manager Higinio Velez is well aware that his team will need better clutch hitting, good fielding, as well as control pitching to get the job done against the tough Puerto Rico.

In Pool 1, the United States was stunned by South Korea 7-3 on Monday night and will have to beat Mexico on Thursday to battle a ticket to the semi-finals. The US, favored to win the tournament, had also lost a first round game to Canada.

Korea, the only undefeated team left in the WBC, was led by Seung Yeop Lee and his tournament leading fifth homer against US ace Dontrelle Willis. Heep-Seop Choi added another three run shot that at one point had the United States team down 6-1.

On Tuesday, Japan 0-1 plays Mexico 0-1, while Wednesday Korea 2-0 has a rematch against Japan, which it beat in Round 1.

Cuba's Mystery Team Surprises Venezuela

by Circles Robinson

Cuba came of age on Sunday afternoon when it upset Venezuela 7-2 in the World Baseball Classic, defeating one of the Major League’s best southpaws, Johan Santana, in the first game of Round Two.

“This is what we wanted to see –This is Cuban baseball,” said manager Higinio Velez, who debuted as the manager of the Cuban National team in the 1987 Pan American Games and guided the team to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. In Athens he was quoted as saying that being the manager of the team in the baseball-crazy nation can feel about as comfortable as sitting in an electric chair.

With nothing left to prove in amateur baseball, the Cubans had been written off by most sports commentators after they were knocked out 12-2 by Puerto Rico in the final game of Round One. But both teams had already qualified for Round Two and Velez had said before Sunday’s game: “For us, the tournament begins today.” He was proven right.

A second inning double by designated hitter Yoandry Garlobo and a two out RBI single by first baseman Ariel Borrero put Cuba ahead 1-0, a lead they would never relinquish against a team boasting a $103 million dollar payroll.

Yadel Marti, 26, combined his excellent slider, breaking and off-speed pitches with an occasional fastball to hold the Venezuelan batters hitless during the first four innings. The right-hander struck out four including power slugging clean-up hitter Manuel Cabrera twice.

When Marti gave up two singles to start the fifth, the Cuban manager called on right-hander Pedro Luis Lazo. The 34-year-old veteran got off to a bad start fumbling a bunt that loaded the bases with nobody out.

However, the towering Lazo, who had pitched poorly against Panama in Round One, then got Endy Chavez and all-star Omar Vizquel to hit flies to short left, too shallow to bring in the tying run from third. But the threat wasn’t over as Carlos Guillen stepped into the batters box with the bases still loaded. Then Lazo struck him out with a 97 MPH fastball allowing Higinio Velez to take a deep breath.

Venezuelan starter Johan Santana pitched well allowing only two hits while striking out five including Cuba’s star second baseman Yulieski Gourriel twice. But the roof caved in for the South Americans when Giovanny Carrara came in to pitch the sixth.

After giving up a run on a walk and stolen base to shortstop Eduardo Paret and an RBI single by third baseman Michel Enriquez, Carrara faced Frederich Cepeda with two on and two out. The left fielder belted a three-run homer into the right field stands and catcher Ariel Pestano, deep in a four-game slump, followed with a duplicate solo shot, to make it 6-0.

After allowing a double to Edgardo Alfonso and a home run by Endy Chavez in the seventh, Pedro Luis Lazo turned up the heat and retired seven of the last eight batters to complete a memorable 5-inning save.

”Two days ago when Puerto Rico beat Cuba, everyone said we were already out of the tournament," said an elated Lazo, "But Cuba is not gone. Cuba is still here to play, and whoever wants to beat it will really have to sweat it out.”

Venezuelan team captain, all-star shortstop Omar Vizquel, had a fluke bad day fielding. In the 5-run Cuban sixth, he had a ball lodge between the buttons of his shirt and failed to get a key out when bobbling another grounder.

Cuba turned two of their opponents scoring opportunities into double plays in the second and sixth innings and Venezuelan hitters fanned seven times. Yadel Marti picked up the win and Johann Santana took the loss, his second in the World Baseball Classic. Marti has thrown 8.1 scoreless innings in three WBC appearances. In all Cuba had 10 hits to Venezuela’s five.

In other play on Sunday, the United States got a run in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind to defeat Japan 4-3. Meanwhile, the other Pool 1 game was a hard fought pitching duel won by South Korea 2-1 over Mexico. The Koreans have yet to lose in WBC play.

On Monday afternoon Cuba faces the hard hitting Dominican Republic, which lost its undefeated status against Puerto Rico on Sunday evening 7-1. The game is a must win for the Dominicans, while Cuba needs at least another victory in one of its next two games against the Dominicans or Puerto Rico on Wednesday to advance to the semi-finals.

US Tries to Mix Politics and Sports at WBC

By Circles Robinson

Fans interested in seeing the “mystery” Cuban team play Major League quality baseball were enjoying the island’s superb pitching and solid hitting on Thursday when provocateurs, supported by Washington and its Puerto Rican authorities, tried to put a damper on the game.

This is not the first time that anti-Cuban groups have tried to spoil a purely sporting event. In fact, it has been a common occurrence for nearly half a century.

While the Cuban team battered the Netherlands in a 11-2 runaway and earned its passage to the second round of the World Baseball Classic, fans and sports writers deplored the staged provocation.

Even Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, which co-sponsor the Classic, had hoped politics had been left behind after the Bush administration went back on its initial banning of the Cuban team from participating on US soil, including its Puerto Rican seudo-colony.

Puerto Rican baseball officials, taking an independent stance, had threatened not to host the opening rounds of the tournament if the Olympic and World Cup Champion Cuban team, the biggest attraction, was not allowed to play.

By allowing the anti-Cuba sign to be continually exhibited directly behind home plate, it is obvious that the police and security authorities were supporting the slanderous publicity stunt. In fact, they even placed police agents alongside the provocateurs to protect them from others who disapprove of the attempt to smear Cuba thus mixing politics with sports.

Adalberto Mercado, security commissioner of the Puerto Rican capital responded to a protest from the Cuban sports delegation by saying, “We explained that here in Puerto Rico freedom of expression is allowed whenever it doesn’t violate the law,” reported Primera Hora newspaper.

While most sports fans oppose spoiling an exciting baseball tournament with a war of political slurs or aggressions, several observers asked what would have happened if the sign had been one against the US government or its war in Iraq. Would the US and Puerto Rican authorities have permitted it to be shown for over an hour on ESPN?

Despite being dominated by US federal officials and laws for over a century, there is much support in Puerto Rico for Cuba’s right to self determination and sovereignty. Tonight’s game between the two Pool C qualifiers is a sell out and sports fans hope measures are taken so that people can enjoy a good ball game.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Cuba Takes Five Lefthanders to WBC

by Circles Robinson

Cuba will take a hard-throwing pitching staff of 14 veterans and young aces to the World Baseball Classic including five lefthanders.

The final 30-man roster was announced Thursday evening by Cuban Baseball Federation President Carlos Rodriguez on national television and radio.

The nightly Round Table program began direct from Central Park in Havana with the opinions of hardcore baseball fans who gather regularly to discuss the sport and the island’s players.

Cuban fans have often speculated of how their team would do against US Major Leaguers and the Classic is considered the most competitive event ever for the Olympic and World Cup Champions.

Nobody doubts that the country will come to a halt at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8 when the Cuban team takes the field to play its first game against Panama, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The WBC actually began on Friday with two games played in Japan between Pool A rivals South Korea and Chinese Taipei and Japan vs. China.

The Koreans won a tough pitching duel by shutting out Taipei 2-0, while Japan, the Pool A favorites, won easily over China, unleashing 16 hits including three home runs to win 18-2.

Play continues Saturday at the Tokyo Dome with a morning game between Korea and China and Japan meeting Taipei in the afternoon.

The other three groups begin play next week. Pool B includes the United States, Mexico, Canada and South Africa. Pool D is comprised of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Italy and Australia, while Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama and the Netherlands compete in Pool C.

The Cuban pitching staff includes the highly effective left-hander Adiel Palma, 35, and power pitching right-hander Pedro Luis Lazo, 34. The other left-handers are Norberto Gonzalez, 26, Yosvani Perez, 26 Yulieski Gonzalez, 25 and this year’s Cuban Baseball League sensation, Maikel Folch, 25.

Right-handers Vicyohandri Odelin, 26, Yadel Marti, 26, Jonder Martinez, 27, Ormari Romero, 29, Luis Borroto, 23, Yunieski Maya, 24, Yadier Pedroso, 19, and Deinys Suarez, 21 round out the staff.

The three catchers are clutch hitting Ariel Pestano, 31, Roger Machado, 31, and Eriel Sanchez, 30.

The seven infielders will be led by team captain and shortstop Eduardo Paret, 33, third baseman Michel Enriquez 27, and the versatile Yulieski Gourriel, 22, at second; the diamond also includes Joan Carlos Pedroso, 26, and Ariel Borrero, 33, at first base, shortstop Juan Carlos Moreno, 30, and utility player Rudy Reyes, 24.

Cuba chose to take six outfielders to the Classic: power hitting left fielder Frederich Cepeda, 25, right fielder and four time batting champion Osmani Urrutia, 29, center fielders Carlos Tabares, 31 and Alexei Ramirez, 24, as well as Yoandry Garlobo, 28, Leslie Anderson, 23.

Manager Higinio Velez and the coaching team including Benito Camacho, Jose Elosegui, Francisco Escaurido and Carlos Cepero will keep the team practicing in top form in the few days remaining before traveling to Puerto Rico.

Cuba has the only all-amateur team to compete in the World Baseball Classic. All the team's games and several from the other groups will be broadcast live on Cuban radio and television.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Venezuela Aid to US Poor is Political

by Circles Robinson

Venezuela’s cut-rate oil sales to the poor of eight US states is right on the money; and its exactly the type of politics that the world needs more of.

This week Connecticut was added to the list that already includes Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont.

US politicians who want the marketplace to resolve society’s social inequalities are upset that Citgo, a refiner and gasoline retailer owned by Venezuela, is distributing 44.5 million gallons of discounted heating oil and donating hundreds of thousands to homeless shelters.

Some 15,000 low-income Connecticut residents will initially benefit from the program, the state’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told Reuters.

The fact that a Third World country can choose to benefit America’s poor with cheaper oil is testimony to the failure of President Bush and Congress to provide an energy safety net for the needy during an exceptionally cold winter.

In the last couple years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has begun programs to help his Caribbean neighbors weather the spiraling oil prices and turn the savings into social programs. He has also reached deals with important South American countries for joint investments in gas and oil production and distribution with a mindset on mutually beneficial development.

Back at home, Chavez has initiated unprecedented educational, healthcare and cultural programs for the majority population that was virtually void of State assistance under previous governments. His rising popularity is in part due to those efforts.

The idea of turning oil profits into social spending and helping out sister nations and even the US poor, is highly frowned upon by the Bush administration, which criticizes each and every move made by Chavez.

Reuters reported that the assistance to the US poor, which the Venezuelan embassy in Washington sees as humanitarian aid, “deepens an ongoing spat, between President Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush.”

The administration and its allies on Capitol Hill express “concern” over the embarrassment of having President Chavez come to the aid of the shivering in the northeastern states. Texas Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, calls Venezuela’s aiding America’s underprivileged “increasingly belligerent.”

If their concern is real, then why don’t they allocate less than one percent of the hundreds of billions going to fund the Iraq war and nearly half-trillion dollars in “defense” spending and take away the need for Chavez’ assistance. They would find that there is more than enough to bring in all US citizens from the cold.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Whiltfield (R-Ken) told Reuters that he wants to find out whether the Venezuelan aid program is “part of a larger political agenda.”

You bet it is, and others should jump on the bandwagon.

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