What was done by the Cuban men’s softball team is the first great feat of the national sports movement, after the Tokyo Olympics last summer. The bronze medal at the Pan American Championship, in Paraná, Argentina, must be experienced discovering its guidelines.
After 24 years, the Greater Antilles returns to the podium of these tournaments. The last time was in Valencia-1998, where they won the gold medal, in a final against the same rival that they had just won third place: the United States.
It was a contest that qualifies as a small World Cup. Why? Three of the five countries that have been able to win a world competition were registered: the United States (5), Canada (4) and Argentina (1).
Four of the first six places of the last tournament on the planet were enlisted: Argentina (1), Canada (3), the United States (5) and Venezuela (6), two of them, the American and Venezuelan teams, fell to the Cubans. In addition, those from the land of Bolívar arrived as current continental monarchs, prevailing in the just preceding the world champion: Argentina.
Four teams that appear among the top ten in the world ranking were present: Argentina (2), Canada (6), United States (7) and Mexico (8). Let us add that Venezuela and Guatemala occupy positions 11 and 12, respectively, in that list; Except for Canadians and hosts, Cuba (14) beat the rest.
Those arguments would suffice to ensure that it was a feat. However, there is more. If in baseball it is said that 75% of victory depends on pitching, in softball that indicator scales to 90%. Cuba lost its main arm, that of Alain Román, in the first days, leaving all the weight of the classification to the left-handed Gusber Plutín, a young man, 47 years old yes, but with the heroism of his Santiago de Cuba to show the freshness with which a commitment is made. But, he had to be given a necessary rest
Luis Raúl Domínguez, the shortstop, was the hottest bat in the team. What no one knew was that an injury to his left foot required him to be chalked up, almost immobilized, before each outing. He suffered and I need rest in pursuit of a speedy recovery; This is how they proceeded with Reinier Vera, a virtuous catcher and fourth batter, after injuring one of his hands; and the same thing happened to center fielder and first striker Aníbal Vaillant, hit in the forearm. If that wasn’t enough, his captain and third in the lineup needed an adrenaline rush to present him as the big man he is on that team.
The opponent for the bronze medal is the third most successful World Cup winners, because to the five titles, the USA adds one silver and three third place, nine in total. Faced with the stumbling block, the strategy mounted under the leadership of mentor Leo Cárdenas was deployed on the Paraná diamond: he sent the injured to battle, with only hours of rest and therapeutic work with them and, with his sore hand, he gave the ball to Roman to seek victory.
Domínguez came back immense in the short stops; Vera drove in four of the nine runs; Vaillant guarded the central field like an invincible soldier and the captain reappeared, as a leader does in front of his troop at the decisive and most important moment: he batted from four to four, including a home run, and brought home another four runs. The ninth for that opportune and sure player that is Osvaldo Pérez. And just as he qualified the team, Plutín got the last outs of a game with a score of 9-3, a true reflection not only of superiority but also of the main quality of these softball players: combativeness.
In 1998, when the last medal was obtained in a Pan American Championship, the mentor Cárdenas and Jesús “Chuchi” Echarte, today the coach, were two key pieces. Twenty-four years later they are once again the protagonists of a feat, which in the World Cup in November can continue to grow.