INTERVIEW: Yosvani Peraza, confessions of Cuba's beefiest baseball player.
INTERVIEW: Yosvani Peraza, confessions of Cuba's beefiest baseball player.
Whoever arrives in San Juan y Martínez, a town in the Western Province of Pinar del Río and asks for the son of Eduardo Peraza and Caridad Marín, will get, as an answer ''oh, that's the fatty!''. But Yosvani Peraza Marín, the beefiest player in the Cuban Baseball Series, is the pride of his hometown.
At the age of 35 and a weight of 135 kilogrammes, Peraza isn't a catcher anymore; he currently performs as a designated hitter. Speed has never been his thing, and it has decreased with time, but the strength of his swing remains the same. Therefore, when outfielders take their offensive role, prefer to stick around him, so they have more chances of reaching the strong hits that come from Peraza, a player that has already done 249 home-runs in the National Series and is in the 19th position in this category's history. In 2014, for the first time in his extensive career, won the home-run derby in the All Stars game.
Peraza has been a key figure in the successful achievements of Pinar del Río for fifteen years. In this period, he has won three championships; among them, the most recent: the 53rd National Series, when ''the pinareños'', under the leadership of Alfonso Urquiola, got their 10th title in History when they overcame Matanzas, in the final play-off of six games.
With the conviction that success in any profession is rooted in self-confidence, Peraza goes to the field prepared to give his best; and although many think his major glories are now in the past, he wants to demonstrate that, with the bat in their hands, few are more impressive than he is.
Peraza's first influences to go to a baseball field were from his paternal uncle and aunt. In the late 80s, Pinar del Río was living one of his glory moments, and Peraza dreamed of following the steps of Omar Linares, his sport idol.
How did you start in baseball?
I have always liked the game and when I was eleven I started to go to the ''Rubén Martínez'' stadium, in my home borough. The late Mario Pedroso was my first coach.
''Yope'', as he is called by friend, was immediately recruited for the ''Ormani Arenado Llonch'' School of Sports Initiation (EIDE, in Spanish), in Pinar del Río, and at this young stage he got two national sub-titles. He was seen back then as one of the biggest promises of Cuban baseball.
How do you remember your periods in the kids - teens category?
With much pride. In those years I was in the team for Cuba, and we won the world championship in Brazil in the 15 - 16 category, in 1995, and then I also played in the National Youth Selection, which won the World Cup held in Sancti Spiritus, in 1996. In my last year in the Junior Category, I was chosen as the most important athlete.
Why do you think it took you so long to become Pinar del Río's official catcher?
I guess I got to the team in a moment when there were stars such as Yosvani Madera or Lázaro Arturo Castro, and it was quite hard to play in their position. I didn't have many chances either. It's not good, for any player, to spend so much time in the bench.
The season of 1998 was the debut for Peraza, who was only 18, in the National Series. His first game was forgettable, he could barely get in contact with the ball and he received four strikes. He still had a lot to learn, although his adaptation level proved to be quite fast.
What baseball personalities have influenced in your technique?
Luis Giraldo Casanova was very important for me, he helped me work in my tactic mistakes, to be selective in my pitches and to be quiet in the base. It is because of these advices that I can connect with strength. I don't look for a great connection, I just wait to hit the ball.
How do you remember your first time with the National Cuban team, in 2007?
It was a great experience. Not everyone gets to represent their country in a World Championship, and although we ended up in the second place - we lost against the United States- I have good memories of that tournament.
Peraza integrated the pre-selection that trained in the Netherlands to participate in the Olympic Games of Beijing 2008. He was expected to be part of the official team, but surprisingly, the management, led by Antonio Pacheco, left him out of the event.
Do you think they were unfair to eliminate you from the Olympic Games?
I think they were honest with me. Some say my performance wasn't the best in my preparation in the Netherlands, but the truth is, I never got the chance to demonstrate anything. One morning I was told I was coming back to Cuba without further explanation.
The season of 2008 - 2009 has been the most important for Peraza, since he made 23 home-runs, had an average of 329 and 68 RBI. This formidable numbers helped Peraza to be chosen for the National Selection that played in the III World Classic, in March 2009.
In that tournament, Cuba was in the same group as the organizers (Mexico). After an initial and rather easy victory, the team needed to defeat Australia to get into the second phase, nevertheless, Australia got to the game with advantages.
Cuba was against the wall, but coach Higinio Vélez didn't think twice and put Peraza as an emerging hitter; which was a wise decision. Peraza made a violent swing to an Australian ball, and it disappeared behind the fences. Cuba won the game and Peraza consolidated his slugger reputation.
The World Classic was extremely relevant in your career, although Cuba, in the end, didn't play a good role. How do you remember this tournament?
I remember it as something very important for my career. Every Cuban player wants to measure himself with professional players. I had the chance to play as a designated hitter. I will never forget that home-run against Australia, which took us to the second phase.
After the World Classic, Peraza went through one of the toughest moments in his life: after a car accident, he had to go under surgery and he missed a big part of the season; but he came back with new vigour to the 50th Edition of the National Series, in 2010 - 2011.
Was the title with Pinar del Río, in the 50th National Series, the one you have enjoyed the most?
I remember it, firstly, with deep joy, because the team was played at the highest level during the qualifying rounds, but also with a bit of sadness because, due to my accident, my left hand fingers had been operated and I couldn't give all I wanted; I just couldn't have the results I aimed at.
What do you think of current Cuban baseball?
Baseball has been improving. The National Series are in a much higher level now. We must look for new competitive ways, but I do think that Cuban baseball is still in the world elite. We just have to keep on working, because we have the quality.
Do you think that the new hiring law (by foreign teams or clubs) is one of those competitive ways you mentions?
Absolutely. The National Series is in such a level that we must look for some international promotion, and having the chance to play in international competitions is very positive. Our players have quality and it will also help us in an economic point of view.
What are your ambitions?
Look, that's very simple: I want to break the record of 270 home-runs and keep on giving Cuban people a good show.
Yosvani Perera shines in the field for many reasons: firstly, for his body; but, beyond his muscles, ''the pinareño'' is a symbol of dedication ans strength, which he gives in every single game. Despite his injuries and age, he doesn't even handle the possibility of retirement. This is a decision that many fans of Cuban baseball are thankful for.
By Y. Masó / M. Gómez. PanamericanWorld. La Habana