Gettin’ ‘em when they’re young

USA Today looks at why, apart from simply being a baseball-mad country, Cuba is able to produce so much talent:

“Everyone plays all positions until about age 15,” says Adelio Garcia, manager for this team of top 13- and 14-year-olds from the western Havana district of Playa. “They like kids with many skills.”

“They” are government scouts who seek out top talent in Cubans as young as 7, sending gifted athletes in all sports to special district schools. Those who excel are tapped for boarding academies where they get coaching, practice and individualized diet and exercise regimens.

Cuba’s powerful sports machine weeds out all but the best talent as youngsters age, helping this tiny country crank out droves of world-class athletes. But it begins in places like this: A rocky field where kids who have yet to hit puberty practice on a leisurely Friday afternoon.

“We look for talent from infancy, always thinking about sending (kids) to high-performance schools,” Garcia said. “There is always talent. Cubans have baseball in their blood.”

Physical education begins at age 6 and baseball is a mandatory part of the curriculum, said Tony Castillo, head of scholastic development for the Cuban Baseball Federation. Tryouts at 7 or 8 can win kids a spot on a district team like Playa’s, and the chance to attend non-sleep-away schools for baseball players.

You read this thing and your first impulse is to be taken somewhat aback at how serious they take this. Then you realize that the traveling leagues and all of that jazz that we put our kids through is no less odd.

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  1. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I’m not saying that they’re ethical equivalents, Tad. Just that, within the context of our particular cultures, both the Cuban system and our amateur systems are just both kind of unnatural.

  2. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Maybe I’m really twisted, but I don’t see it as unnatural.  If you find (or have) a kid with a gift, no matter what gift is is, wouldn’t you do everything you could to help that child reach their uppermost potential?

    And given the combination of incredible riches to be earned (though not as much IN Cuba) and the unspeakable poverty, the pressure to develop those talents has got to be severe.

    Whacked out parents are those whose kids DON’T have the rarest of abilities, but THINK they do.  Those are the crazy ones, yelling at their kids to do things they just aren’t capable of doing.  Or those who try to push kids who don’t have the interest or desire to do what the parents THINK they should do.

  3. The Common Man said...

    I think, Jason, the point comes down to enjoyment.  And a gifted player who doesn’t like playing the game shouldn’t be browbeat into playing just because they’re good at it.

    As for Cuba, I think it matters how the Cuban parents and kids feel about the sports ministry and the schools they run.  If the people and the children don’t feel “damaged” by it, maybe they aren’t.  We consider it exploitative; they perhaps consider it something else, gladly trading their time and childhood for the chance to play their national sport and get perks for doing so.  I don’t like their system, but I wonder if they consider it so bad.  It sure sounds better than the Dominican.

  4. tadthebad said...


        Wouldn’t you agree that even if a kid had that rare ability, and the parents were still obsessed with “nurturing” that gift to the point that the kid misses out on everything else life has to offer, those parents would be whacked out too?  We’re talking about not only the kid’s future, but his present life as well.  Would you prefer a talented kid “grow-up” and be as well adjusted as ARod?  Of course not.  There should be balance.

        Let’s also not forget that many, many kids have rare ability with respect to playing baseball.  That still doesn’t mean they should 1) have to sacrifice the rest of their lives to cultivate baseball skills, or 2) that intense “nurturing” will lead to a major league roster spot.

  5. Aaron Moreno said...

    Well, TCM, if anyone were to ask Cuban families what they think of the baseball ministry, they’ll probably say they’re all for it. To a man they’ll all say that.

  6. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    I don’t know how I’d deal with it because I have seen my kids catch and it’s not a worry of mine!

  7. Millsy said...

    Baseball is mandatory?  That’s not fair.  We had to play softball with a squishy ball in high school in the US due to safety concerns.  When are we going to be more like Cuba?

  8. Pete Toms said...

    I’ve been to Cuba and the Cubans are dirt poor.  I wonder if the government should allocate the resources they devote to producing elite baseball players on something else. 

    We see it across all nations but I don’t have pride in my country tied up in our sports accomplishments.  I think it’s lame.

  9. tadthebad said...

    Jeez, really?  I have a hard time comparing psycho parents to a psycho government.  The psycho government angle is a little more obtrusive, no?  A little more controlling?  Maybe it’s my general suspicion of government, any government, but “bureaucratic scouts” sound more dangerous than “wacked out parents”…not that I agree with packaging one’s 10-year old to be part of a traveling circus – I don’t.  Perhaps it’s the scope of potential damage – a few kids vs. a nation of kids – that makes the difference for me.

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