The Victoria HarbourCats hosted Unión de Reyes of Cuba, the U-20 Matanzas provincial champions Monday night at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park. It was a historic game in that it was the first time that a team from Cuba played on the island in a West Coast League game.
Unión de Reyes won by the score of 8-4.
“We enjoyed playing in this beautiful city, for the beautiful people with all our hearts” said their Head Coach Basallo. “I have had these kids since they were six and seven years old. We are very close,”
Baseball in Cuba is akin to hockey in Canada or Soccer in Brazil. Their passion for the game was evident on the diamond, as coaches and players spoke demonstratively and with great emotion. Players and coaches congratulated each other for the smallest of victories, like throwing a runner out at first or catching a fly ball.
They also showed frustration at their own mistakes – they take the game very seriously.
The HarbourCats were coming off of their first three-game sweep of the season against the Walla Walla Sweets and have been playing their best ball all season – especially at the plate.
Alberto Bello started the game with a leadoff walk, and two batters later Jonny Matos smacked an RBI triple to draw first blood for Cuba.
Union de Reyes then started the top of the second with another leadoff walk, and Victoria loaded the bases for Cuba with a couple errors in the field. Bello capitalized on the miscues with an RBI single to double the Cuba lead, while Christian Rivero, two outs later, knocked in two more with a single of his own.
With two men on base, Ryan Ober hit a three-run homer during the bottom of the fifth to make a game of it, bringing the HarbourCats to within two, 6-4.
During the seventh inning, first-base coach and 48-year-old former player Troy Birtwistle got on the mound and kept the HarbourCats in it, giving up no hits or runs.
Cuba showed their athleticism throughout the ballgame, robbing the HarbourCats from gaining extra bases on numerous occasions, but Rivero’s eighth-inning diving catch into the right-field wall to rob Dustin Miller of a home run brought the entire Cuban bench to the field to celebrate the highlight play.
It was impossible to tell if the Victoria crowd was cheering for Cuba or Victoria. Buoyed by the Cuban joy of playing, they cheered for both teams.
Camaraza added a solo homer in the ninth, and despite outhitting Cuba 12-8, Alonso closed out the HarbourCats in the home half of the inning to secure his nine-inning performance and victory for the Cubans.
Cuba will play their last game in Canada against the Chemainus Brewers on August 1, before returning home on August 3.
The HarbourCats hit the road for three against the Yakima Valley Pippins, then three against the Wenatchee Applesox before returning home for their final three games of the season against the Portland Pickles.