Many herald Cuba as Medical Maven. I luckily have not had to use the medical system but there should be a caveat with such statements. Cuban doctors/surgeons and medical researchers are some of the most well trained and diligent in the world. This creates an environment where Cuba overachieves relatively in medical science. There is immense surgical talent on the island. I was surprised to find out one of the surgeries on the list is UCL replacement or Tommy John surgery.
The surgery so named for former MLB pitcher John replaces the elbow ligament. This has removed the pitching death sentence such an injury represented before. Losing a year of pitching development is never good. However increasing recipients of the surgery have bounced back to resume their pitching careers. Hopefully this will be the case for young Industriales reliever Frank Herrera.
I first met Frank through the digital sphere a few years back. I had captured photos of another Havana hurler and shared them via Facebook. My spanish is much better on Facebook messenger thanks to Google translate but photos seem to communicate universally. Pavel Hernandez inquired if I might be returning and whether I had photos of another pitcher, his friend Frank. Frank reached out similarly inquiring surprisingly in english, but I assumed he was using a translator.
Returning to Cuba in December of 2019 I wanted to make sure I captured Pavel and Frank in action. Fortunately Frank pitched in multiple games I was chronicling in both Havana and Cienfuegos. Covid-19 put the world on hold in the spring of 2020 as well as my plans to return to create more baseball imagery. I would occasionally keep in contact with Frank though and more often on Twitter. Few Cuban players have migrated to Twitter just yet. Some of that might be the perceived english bias of the platform. Some of it might just be the digital limitations that still exist on the island.
The 60th Cuban National Series wrapped in April of 2021. The Baseball Federation decided to delay the start of the next series until January of 2022. This meant there was a large period of time without active baseball in Cuba, however there was plenty of news. A lot of it wasn’t good, with a large number of players deciding their fortunes would be better playing elsewhere. Another piece of bad news was that Frank Herrera would require Tommy John surgery and ultimately miss the 61st Cuban National Series.
The announced January 23rd start date for the 61st Cuban National Series became a personal target for my return. I spoke with Frank and asked if he would have interest in discussing his injury and recovery. We made plans to meet at LatinoAmericano Stadium for Havana’s home opener. I was excited to pick his brain as to what he was seeing although I am sure it has to be tough having to watch from the sidelines.
First, I have to say I was impressed with the mild mannered youngster and his command of English. I am working on my Spanish and can get the crux of my thoughts across when I am discussing baseball. There is no doubt though that being able to converse in english with someone with an insiders perspective is fantastic.
Frank discussed his approach to pitching. He uses a 4 Seam fastball, slider and circle change up. On this day Industriales was facing Granma. He relayed that the player on their squad that gives him the most trouble is Roel Santos. Santos is a veteran with much international experience and a solid contact hitter. Against the rest of the lineup he said he could take advantage of their aggressiveness and pitch slightly backwards.
If he can get ahead early with his slider, which he admits isn’t predicated on huge movement but mixing speeds, he has more leeway with his fastball and change up mix. Santos grinds him down and doesn’t bite on his slider offerings and instead sits fastball. Frank also admits that if he isn’t pinpoint in his accuracy it can be a long day. His game isn’t about blowing it past hitters, it’s about hitting his spots, messing with timing and utilizing his three pitch mix.
He isn’t currently travelling with the team but gets to as many games as possible to show his support. Industriales does have some say in his rehab from surgery and the program he is using has been drafted in conjunction with the team and a physical trainer. He informs me that in a few days he will be having his first throwing session since going under the knife. I was invited to chronicle this and jumped at the chance.
The video above chronicles that first throwing session. Frank has been working out at the diamond he first discovered the game on. As a nine year old he started playing pick up games in the shadow of Havana’s famous Revolution plaza. Lazaro de la Torre is the winningest pitcher in Industriales’ history and the effective care taker for the park. He noticed that the then third baseman could really throw and suggest he could tutor him into becoming a pitcher. Those tutoring sessions clearly worked.
Frank is now paying it forward. On this day after his personal short throwing session he spends the next few hours working with some young players. One 19 year old is a recent convert to pitching and Frank says he has the tools but needs some tweaking on his mechanics and their consistency.
Herrera also recently received a degree in Physical Culture and Sports with a specialty in baseball. Although making it back to the Lions and pitching as long as he can is the first goal, he wants to make sure he has options. Looking well into the future he hopes to coach baseball and perhaps become a specialist in pitching pedagogy.
With the knowledge, education and language skills he has accrued it could open doors to teach in many environments. Personally I hope for a speedy recovery for Frank. I look forward to capturing him in action for Industriales again. I am also thankful that he is putting English on the ball.