2022 Haarlem Baseball Week | Cuba sends championship team to Haarlem
This 30th edition of the Haarlem Baseball Week will again be attended by a Cuban delegation. In the past, this baseball superpower was represented by players who would later become superstars, such as Yuli Gurriel, Yoenis Céspedes, and 2020 American League MVP José Abreu, but this tournament features five-time winner Cuba (1972, '74, '96, '98, and 2012) in the Baseball Week with a roster that consists of players from Cuban national champion Alazanes de Granma, supplemented by other stars from its own league.
Until 2017, the Alazanes from the southern province of Granma, of which Yoenis Céspedes, among others, defended the club colors, belonged to the sub-top of Cuban baseball, but with the help of coach Carlos Martí, they broke their title drought that year. Since then, the Alazanes have crowned themselves three more times as national champions, the last of which was recently won. Martí also helmed the national team during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The team that comes to Haarlem is home to some well-known names for Baseball Week fans. Veteran Frederich Cepeda (he is now 42) returns to the tournament where he has played several times. That Cepeda is still one of the best baseball players on the island, he proved this season by leading the Cuban league in batting average (.410). Another well-known name is that of Ariel Pestano — but make no mistake, this is not the legendary catcher Ariel Pestano who has already traveled to Haarlem several times. That was his father. Ariel Pestano Rosado, now boarding the plane, succeeds his father, Ariel Pestano Valdés, as a Baseball Week veteran.
Another interesting player to keep an eye on this tournament is Alazanes de Granma's big man, Carlos Benítez. The reigning champion's second baseman finished third in the batting standings, hitting .379 with an on-base percentage over .500! On the pitching side, Cuba sends RHP César Garcia along. The pitcher of Alazanes finished eighth on the ERA list this season, giving up the fewest home runs of all Cuban starting pitchers.
In short, Cuba appears to be back with a strong squad in Haarlem. In recent decades, the Caribbean island has seen its top talents make the crossing to the American Major League at an increasingly younger age. In Haarlem, the island hopes to prove that it is still a breeding ground for baseball talent.