BY ANNE-MARIE GARCIA (Special for Granma International) | [url=http://www.granma.cu]http://www.granma.cu[/url]
FOTO: Ahmed VELAZQUEZ
Only 18 years old, Cuban baseball’s new gem is playing for Industriales this season • He dreams of joining the island’s national team
HITTING homeruns left-handed and right-handed, this winning pitcher is equally at home in the infield and the outfield. But new Cuban baseball gem Kendry Morales is frustrated because he wants to be a catcher!
Many players fear when it’s Kendry Morales’ turn to bat — he can hit a homerun either right- or left-handed.
He will be 19 years old on June 20, 2002. He speaks deliberately, in an unperturbed way, despite the hullabaloo of the almost 25,000 people gathered in the Latin American Stadium to watch Industriales vs. Mexico’s Diablos Rojos.
He smiles when we find this strange, explaining: “Sure, I’m a bit matter-of-fact. It’s a quality that helps me avoid putting pressure on myself during the game. And off the field, it helps me to deal with the bit of fame that has come my way so quickly.”
The Diablos Rojos game was the first time he’d faced a professional squad. His team, Industriales, won 7-3, and Kendry Morales connected in the 7th inning, batting the night’s only homerun right-handed, and pitching without allowing any runs in the game’s last inning.
A VERSATILE PLAYER
He shrugs his shoulders and explains that it was logical for him to begin playing baseball. “I was nine years old and did what all Cuban children do, as baseball is our national sport.”
He crosses his arms with the sureness of a man who is 1.84 meters tall and weighs 94 kilograms.
Kendry continues his reminiscences: “My dad was a catcher and he wanted me to play that position too.” Is this where his frustration at not being a catcher comes from? “I really don’t know. My father always wanted me to play baseball and saw a lot of possibilities for my development in the game.”
And the boy developed; he can now pitch and bat, a combination that is not very common.
“I remember when I pitched in the junior team in 1998, I was the most valuable player and played on the all-star team at the Pan American championships.
“It’s not easy being a versatile player in Cuban baseball. I really prefer to be a pitcher, but coaches have always used me in offense, because of my batting strength. both left- and right-handed.”
He adds, “I feel sure of myself batting on either side, but I’m more comfortable left-handed.”
Kendry isn’t afraid of any pitcher he might face. “This is my first season with a major team and I don’t have much experience. I don’t care if the pitcher is left- or right-handed, but I’ve never actually faced a super-class pitcher,” he acknowledged.
After 41 games in the current national series, Kendry Morales has scored 11 homeruns, meaning he’s second in the league, has a .310 average, and has hit 38 runs, taking him into the lead for this series.
But in spite of all those achievements, he points out: “I’ve hardly been used as a pitcher, but I think the batter I fear the most is Antonio Pacheco, because of his power and experience.”
Kendry is a bit surprised when asked about his defects. “I don’t know,” he replies, adding “I think it’s important to work and practice a lot to improve. I like to spend a lot of time on the baseball field and train in all the positions ó fielding, batting, pitching, running… everything.”
IGNORING THE FAME
Kendry Morales finished 12th grade and is working on a sports and physical education degree. He likes romantic music and listens to it at home to relax.
“I devote all my time to baseball, so when there’s no game or training sessions I stay at home and rest. I felt pretty tired after a game, because I like to give my all on the field.”
His excellent playing in last season’s Pan American Junior Championships, held in Cuba, was very impressive, which is why fans had high hopes for Kendry’s debut in the series this season.
Nowadays, many players wait impatiently, while others fear the batting turn of this rare bird, who quickly stands to the catcher’s left or right.
He knows that all the baseball commentators are reporting on him and accepts it with a certain nonchalance.
“I try to behave professionally and not take much notice of what people say. I’m not saying that I don’t care what they think, but it’s not necessary to take what other people say too seriously. The most important thing for me is paying attention to my coach and team.”
But Kendry doesn’t deny that being famous isn’t easy. “It’s all come to me very quickly,” he recognizes almost with resignation. And he wonders, “What can I do? I have to get used to it, I’ve just started my career. I’m lucky to have the help of my coach, my trainer, my teammates and above all my mom.”
He tells how people recognize him on the street and want to talk to him: “The good thing is they acknowledge my sacrifice. The bad thing is that sometimes I don’t even have time to talk to my friends. If they stop me for a chat and I say no, they say I’m arrogant and grouchy.”
The 18-year-old who has become an indispensable player in his first season with Industriales adds, “My dream is to play for the Cuban national team one day and win a great title.”