Industriales of Havana are frequently compared to the New York Yankees. Both teams play in the media capital of their country. They have the most championships overall and are in a decade plus championship drought. Their desire to reshape their roster and get back to the top is understandable. One roster move by the Havanites that surprised many was the exclusion of long time catcher Frank Camilo Morejón.
Worse than the decision itself may have been the manner the decision came to the fore. Rumours were first broken by Swing Completo that the preliminary roster didn’t include Moreón. More than 10 days passed before Frank was summoned to baseball HQ. Frank joined by veteran teammates Yoandry Urguelles and Juan Carlos Torriente walked into the conference room. He would proceed to hear a laundry list of reasons, most surrounding his injury history as reasons the team was moving on. Urguelles would retire but Torriente has returned to Industriales in 2022 and played extensively.
The decision and the way the message were delivered were debated heavily and openly in media on and off the island. If nothing else the story is evidence of a burgeoning and increasingly open baseball media landscape in Cuba. All of that may have served as consolation for the 17 year veteran of the National Series and National team. Morejón has to take a Frank look into the future.
Baseball players in Cuba are payed more in comparison than the average Cuban. Qualifying players do receive a pension, but many try to extend their playing days as long as possible. The numbers are hard to pin down, I have discussed some of the numbers with Frank over the years. Out of respect I will defer from publishing personal financial information. All to say, a player with 17 years of service in a top level league in most other countries wouldn’t be worried about future finances.
Frank is married to Olympic Silver medallist in Judo, Yalennis Castillo Ramirez. Yalennis also receives a pension. The two due to their service to sport in the country receive some perks out of reach for many. This includes nicer living conditions and easier access to vehicles. If they represent a Cuban power couple though their lifestyle is hardly extravagant.
Yalennis has recently started coaching up and coming Judo athletes. The ambition is to help them emulate the success she had in the Olympics. This opportunity may not have been possible if Frank were still playing. The two work together to make sure their two young daughters are supervised when they are not in school. This is a paid position but my impression is that like so many vocations in Cuba it is driven by passion and less by pay cheque.
Frank understandably has put some distance between himself and Industriales officially. However, baseball is still core to his identity and future path. Via social media he has posted videos of training sessions with young Cuban catchers at his casa. This includes working with the player who has assumed the majority of catching duties for Havana in Oscar Valdes.
On a Friday afternoon in early February, Frank agreed to shuttle me to his home to capture some of his methods with a young student. Conveniently he was already in the Vedado neighbourhood as he has been working at the University. Morejón is doing a guest spot as a professor. His students are in fact coaches or trainers and the focus is on baseball pedagogy. Effectively he is training the trainer to better the overall Cuban baseball development system with insight into the finer arts of catching.
A young man in his early twenties and his father are waiting upon our arrival. The session begins with some stretching and resistance exercises before the student straps on the tools of ignorance.
Analyzing defence in baseball has always been hard, even as more data driven methods are adopted. Defence for a catcher is typically more visible in preventing errors, passed balls and stolen bases. Frank Camilo Morejón was always considered an excellent defender in these historic metrics. Frank’s focus for most of his students goes beyond though with a major dive into pitch framing. The subtle art of moving your glove in receiving the ball into the strike zone. In doing so, hoping to convince the umpire the pitcher is more accurate than he might be.
Morejón is a master and his young understudy is hoping to emulate this. He hopes to jump from provincial competition to perhaps Industriales and beyond. The concept seems simple enough. However the precision is in setting your target at the appropriate time while subtly moving the glove. The pitchers accuracy has an impact in that you can’t oversell framing and risk not catching the ball. Muscle memory and sleight of hand are thus the magicians tools in this scenario.
I can visualize the difference between the desired outcome and the youngsters catching style. There is a reason I was never a catcher though. Frank is no push over, clearly his push for perfection is how he developed the skills which became his calling card. The young student grows frustrated at points. To his credit, he keeps pushing through. In this session he struggles a bit with being robotic. He clearly needs to keep honing the new skills he is learning.
The session ends and we chat briefly about what we both saw over a nice dinner. Frank confides that he is considering attending the next day’s Industriales home opener. This surprises me, but might be a sign that time can heal all or at least most wounds. It also might just be morbid curiosity to step into the arena he called home for close to twenty years.
I asked Frank if he would ever consider rejoining Industriales in an official capacity. He didn’t give a definitive answer. I could see him wearing the hurt of such a high profile and personal break up though. Perhaps I planted a seed. A few days later Frank was published stating under what circumstances he might consider a reunion. He has contemplated coaching with or managing the squad but only if the current powers that be have moved on.
Frank Camilo Morejón likely still has much to give on a baseball diamond, however key decision makers disagree. Thankfully that hasn’t stopped Frank from contributing off the diamond. The competitive fires that led Frank to two decades of success in baseball can’t be turned off like a switch. The desire to compete is still strong but Frank might have a greater influence in pursuing his current teaching path. I just hope he will always have a baseball role as we take a Frank Look into the Future.