(50 Year Winning Streak is Over!)

This week is a melancholic week for Cuban baseball — and I’d venture to say Cuban morale. Their 50 year winning streak is OVER. Dead in the water. It happened at Petco park on Wednesday night. Japan beat the Cubans in the World Baseball Classic, eliminating Cuba before a major international tournament’s final game for the first time in 50 years.

(Baseball Junkies Fidel & Camilo Cienfuegos)

One of Cuba’s biggest exports is baseball. Whatever turmoil they might experience politically, it all gets eclipsed a few times a year by the glorious victories that annually show the world another sort of dominance — the superiority of a man on a field. Pure and honest.

(The Famous Cuba pitching stance)

Watching the ranks of Cuban baseball stars rise in their field has that additional subgenre of human drama. Several of their star players debate the painful decision of defecting (and subsequently leaving their families behind along with their beloved homeland) in order to forge ahead and realize their athletic dreams… sometimes making enough money to feed entire neighborhoods back home. The last person to flee “la patria” was Cuban outfielder Yasser Gómez, who defected last December but has not decided to sign with a major league team yet.

(Relatives of Yadel Marti watch him play from Cuba)

(A Training Day on a Saturday in Havana)

(Cuban Baseball Team)

Cuban baseball stars are considered the real celebrities in Cuba — and deeply intertwined in Government fascination (Fidel himself dreamed of being a ball player when he was young). Despite the same struggles they face in their every day lives, the National team is always invited for a standard Government ceremony before they are sent off into the world to boast one of Cuba’s best exports.

The superior training of their athletes adds to the rockstar status of the Cuban image — so everytime Fidel loses a star player, it’s something he takes as a personal diss, sometimes punishing co-players who remain back at home. No doubt, a tough decision for any player to make. The international success and respect for the Cuban baseball team is somewhat of a security blanket that makes it’s people proud to be on top… and reasonably so! This week, the ego-crush is felt far and wide with the 11 million people on the island.

(Raul passes national banner to Eduardo Paret)

(The New Winners, Japan)

Japan beat Cuba 5-0 in the World Baseball Classic. That means Cuba is eliminated before a major international tournament’s final game for the first time in 50 years.

New York Times summarized it simply as the death of “50 years of Cuban dominance and one of the most remarkable streaks in baseball”. Sniff. Sniff.

For more details, Read New York Times game review.