Does Team USA have a chance against Cuba in baseball? Does any team have a chance?
The Cubans have won their last six international tournaments, winning 63 games and losing one. That lone loss, though, was to the U.S. at the 1987 Pan Am Games, where the U.S. team was in the hands of Ron Fraser, the coach who will take Team USA to Barcelona. Says Fraser, "Our situation is a lot like the one the U.S.A. hockey team had at Lake Placid in 1980. They had the Russians. We have the Cubans."
And the Cubans have had time. Many members of their team have been playing together for years. Among the players to watch are third baseman Omar Linares (left), who has hit .453 in 225 at bats in international play over the last five years, with 34 homers and 86 RBIs; second baseman Antonio Pacheco, who has hit .429 with 19 home runs and 70 RBIs over that period; and shortstop German Mesa, a player so good that Fraser thinks he could start for a major league team tomorrow.
In contrast, Team USA is young, and Fraser will have had just five weeks to prepare his players. They are not lacking in talent, though. Among the squad's 11 first-round draft choices are Cal State-Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin, Mississippi State pitcher B.J. Wallace (right) and Miami catcher Charles Johnson.
One man familiar with both U.S. and Cuban baseball is Mike Brito, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cuban-born scout, who has worked with the Mexican national team in games against the Cubans. Brito says the Cubans have only one problem. "They have so many players, they don't have enough for them to do," he says. "The Cubans could put together six or seven national teams."
With the best of all that Cuban talent on one team, Team USA could be wondering whose national pastime this really is.