Cuba is legendary for their dominance in international baseball competition. Dominant in veritably every tournament but one. Cuba has never competed in the Little League World Series. That will change this August when a team of youngsters from Bayamo, Granma Province make their way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Media upstart Belly of the Beast Cuba has followed the squad since their spring qualifying victory. Just in time for their LLWS debut they will debut a documentary chronicling Bayamo’s rise. First a bit about Belly of the Beast, they are a multimedia outlet focusing on authentic and unique Cuban stories. From their website, their vision is described
The Little League World Series has been happening since 1947, and Cuba has never taken part. The team from Bayamo started their journey in 2020, when Cuba had its first Little League championship. The team has played in all three championships and won two of them. This might not come as a surprise since Bayamo, the main city in the Granma province, has produced the most successful Cuban National Series team in recent times. The Alazanes have won four Cuban titles since 2017. We will talk more later about how this team has influenced the younger players.
The movie lasts a reasonable 35 minutes and has impressive visuals that often depict the contrasting aspects of Cuba’s beauty and deterioration. It tells the story through the perspective of key members of the team, whose personal lives also reflect this contrast. Edgar Torres, the team captain, is exceptionally mature for his age. He is considered an integral part of the coaching staff, even though he is still very young. Despite his parents being divorced, they make great efforts to support his baseball aspirations. It remains unclear whether he sees his future in Cuba or elsewhere.
Baseball is a game that is often passed down from fathers to their sons. In this story, the father is Alfredo Despaigne, a well-known Cuban slugger who is considered one of the best players of this century, excluding those in Major League Baseball (MLB). Alfredito, his young son, follows in his footsteps. Alfredo has earned millions of dollars playing in Japan’s top professional league, so he spends nine months each year there. Despite being able to easily interfere due to his status as Cuban baseball royalty, Alfredo tries to offer guidance without overstepping. It’s worth noting that there are other famous baseball names on the team’s roster as well.
Rober says he is the oldest player on the team, but that’s just a way of saying he’s older than the other kids. Some of the other kids have parents who are divorced, but Rober is going through something that more and more kids in Cuba are experiencing. His father left Cuba last year to go to the United States in search of a better life. It’s not mentioned in the piece, but some estimates say that around 3% of Cuba’s population will emigrate in 2022. Playing baseball helps Rober cope with the understandable feelings of being abandoned, even though his father had valid reasons for leaving and hopes to bring him over at some point. They are planning to be together again during the tournament in Pennsylvania.
Gurrielito is the son of former player for the Sancti Spiritus Gallos whose uncle is Lourdes Gurriel Sr. That of course makes him cousins with Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Father is living part of his dream or at least extending it through his son who is playing in large shadows. Gurriel Sr. in this case is a bit more hands on which sometimes blurs into the coaching responsibilities of Professor Vladi. The Bayamo coach is a career baseball man who has spurned offers to work at higher levels due to the purity of working with the true future of the game.
Fabian or ‘Guajiro’ the country boy due to him residing outside of the city limits, he only recently started playing the game. Contrary to the belief of many, not every child is born with a baseball in their hand. I have had many players tell me their stories and more frequently I am surprised how late or how random they ended up playing hardball. It points to how even though there are regimented structures in some corners of Cuban baseball even Little League teams are looking for that diamond in the rough. In this scenario the new comer hasn’t just adopted the game, the head coach has effectively adopted him.
The piece is a short but up close look at the reality of life in Cuba. It can act as a compendium for those hoping to track the squad in the Little League World Series. It also may have more significance as time passes. Although somewhat taboo to assert the reality is many of these kids aren’t much younger than the increasing number of players signing during each years MLB International signing Period. Will the pride of playing for Cuba keep them on the island or will their developing talent lead them down the same path as many they admire?
Cuba still maintains some of the spectre of the International Baseball power house of eras past. How will the team fare though against the world’s best same age players, many coming from better equipped programs with more resources supporting them. Learning a bit more about the families and their sacrifices to get to the tournament has to give a bit of feel good underdog momentum. Anybody with interest in the Little League World Series should view this. I think you’ll have to walk away hoping for success for the Cuban beisbolitos from Bayamo.