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Monday, April 23, 2018

Cuban Baseball Histories: The Sixties (First Part)

Por Fidel Orihuela

Baseball in Cuba has been a passion since the Nineteenth Century, when in the year of 1864 it was introduced on the island by Nemesio Guillo, who brought a bat and a ball from the Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Since then, with the teachings of Esteban Bellan, a pioneer in the knowledge of the bases of this sport due to his studies in Saint John’s College of Fordham, New York, the baseball game in Cuba only grew more and more, with a prosperous professional stage until the year of 1961, in which professional baseball was abolished by the revolutionary process that was taking place in the country with Fidel Castro leading it.

It was Castro himself who inaugurated the National Series, to which only some of the baseball professional players joined along with countless amateur players that kept alive the flame of baseball in the Caribbean nation. It is precisely about these men that made history playing baseball on the island that we will about from now on. Starting with the decade of the sixties, remembered by the triumphs of the team from the capital of the country, “Industriales”.

1962: Erwin Walters became part of the history as the first winner or the MVP in the national Series. The outfielder from Matanzas was batting champion with a .367 average, crucial in the Occidentales’s title. This team also had the leadership of Urbano Gonzalez (runs scored; hits-40), Tomas Soto (doubles-10; RBI-19), Antonio “Chucho” Rubio (1.39 ERA), Manuel E. Hernandez (wins-6) and Rolando Pastor (shutouts-3).

1963: Altough Industriales won and Azucareros finished in the basement, the pitcher Modesto Verdura, ace from Cuba’s center team, had a great performance. With an elegant wind-up, speed and appearance in the mound, the player from Sancti Spiritus was the leader in wins (7), 1.58 ERA, strikeouts (55), innings pitched (79.2), complete games (6) and win-loss average (875). His performance was so good that he was elected MVP and he represented Cuba in the Panamerican Games of Sao Paulo where he defeated the United States twice.

1964: After having won the National Championship wearing the Industriales’ uniform, Pedro Chavez changed to be a part of the Occidentales team, with which he won the batting title and was the leader in triples and RBI. However, his team could not win against the one from the capital and that year ended up being runner-up. Years later Chavez went back to his original team, with which he was champion of the National Series again, both as player and later as manager.

1965: The star second baseman Urbano González, maybe the best contact hitter in Cuban baseball became the only player to lead in each one of the first national Series. The left-handed hit .359 with 56 home runs, categories in which he was undefeated. Three years later he would perform a feat that had no precedents: since march 24, 1968 until February 8, 1969, in 50 games he had 190 AB and 217 total plate appearances without strike outs.