The third edition of the World Baseball Classic – MLB’s slowly-growing attempt at providing a diamond equivalent for FIFA’s celebrated soccer World Cup – is now in the history books. The cheering and speculation and endless debate are now all put to rest in the wake of the most polished, successful and entertaining WBC to date; and perhaps it is now time for some final thoughts and perspectives from a writer who has witnessed each of Team Cuba’s twenty Classic games from a front row press box seat.
For many it was the most devastating among a slew of painful eleventh-hour losses for recent editions of the once dominant but now somewhat tarnished Cuban national team. There have been many such defeats in recent years – the 2008 Olympic finals (versus Korea) in Beijing; the 2009 World Cup finale (USA) in Nettuno; the 2010 Pre-Mundial championship setback (with the Dominicans) in San Juan; and the final-edition 2011 World Cup gold medal loss (Netherlands) in Panama.
If Team Cuba at least temporarily dispelled one myth in Fukuoka on Wednesday (that they could perhaps never learn to hit funky Japanese pitching), they nonetheless failed miserably on Friday afternoon to dismiss yet another pervasive theme (that their new insurmountable hurdle seems to be the talent-rich forces of the Dutch national team).
If any of the top challengers for this year’s World Baseball Classic title have been taking Team Cuba lightly, they would be well advised to start seriously reassessing the picture. The Cubans shocked the professional baseball world back in 2006 when they ran all the ways to the finals of the first Classic – upending MLB star-packed lineups from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic along the way.
Team Cuba debuted in Fukuoka on Sunday afternoon with precisely the kind of near-flawless outing so vital to launching a successful 2013 World Baseball Classic run. A solid combination of steady pitching (from starter Ismel Jiménez and closer Raciel Iglesias) trumped with an equally impressive display of timely hitting in the end produced a pressure-softening 5-2 victory over pesky Brazil. It was a much-needed win that has now put Victor Mesa’s club in a very solid position for advancement to WBC Round 2 next week in Tokyo.