Reynaldo Cruz Díaz is one of the millions of Cubans who love baseball. But he is not an ordinary fan. The reflection of the most relevant news about the sport, whether in Japan, the Caribbean or in Major League Baseball (MLB), through his personal page on the Internet (Universo Béisbol), has become him one of the most important sports bloggers in Cuba. His blog is the only recognized by the MLB blogs community.
He lives in Havana, a Cuban northeast city and works as an English and French translator in the local newspaper. But his greatest work is this, making visible from social networks and the Internet some deep ties between the peoples of Cuba and the United States.
“For several years, I have contacted people around the world who are passionate about baseball. One of those cases is that of Haley Smilow, a twelve years old girl who makes interviews to big leaguers. On July 22, her father, Marc Smilow asked me to allow him to use Universo Béisbol as a backup , as in digital form MLB Credentials asked him to fill out, it appeared a space in which he had to write the name and description of a publication recognized by Major League Baseball. Then he made arrangements with the administration of MLB Blogs Central so that the IP and administrators to be changed they asked me to change the form to be able to enter into search engines, that changed the blog’s theme, and I think it will remain this way until the MLBlogs developers team to make a new one closest to my needs, because for now they have only three. In each of the last three months I have finished fifth, competing with people who have better connection, more time and more resources than me. “
The blog and the monthly magazine of the same name have been so recognized that even The New York Post has talked about Universo Beisbol. How can a publication by a Cuban appears in such an important means of New York?
In addition to Haley Smilow, another American teenager named Matt Nadel is working with me. Matt has gained notoriety in the circles of the chroniclers of Baseball in America, especially for his interest in history and his youth. He is the youngest professional blogger of MLB and has been interviewed by various media. One day I received a message from his father, Steve Nadel, where he sent me a photo of an interview conducted by The New York Post, in which it was said that several of his works were translated into Spanish and published in Universo Beisbol. That opened many doors, and one of them was that this interview was published in several alternative media, and it was after reading one of them that Marc Smilow contacted me. The relationship that I have with Nadel and Smilow came to make them to meet each other at Yankee Stadium, and sent me a picture of all four together. Matt included me in the acknowledgments of his book, and I am who has to thank him, and both his father and Haley’s kept constantly in touch with me, opening doors and introducing me to many people as they can.
One of your works, predicting the performance of Cuban José Dariel Abreu, was widely followed in baseball specialized circles. You also belong to SABR group (Society for American Baseball Research). What is this group about and how do you manage to access it?
The work on Abreu came out in the Community Research FanGraphs section, it is an analysis of how his career in Cuba was reflected in his numbers at MLB, and where I predicted his batting average would increase and his homers would decrease, though not as much as it turned out. SABR, on the other hand, is a group of people who have very defined interests related to baseball. Generally, as the name suggests, they are responsible for rescuing the historical memory of the sport, but also to use advanced statistics for better analysis and to ground deeper criteria. This group gave rise to sabermetrics, as Bill James used his acronyms to create the word sabermetrics. The story of how I entered the group is part of the long and almost endless list of strange things that have happened to me since I started writing about baseball . It turns out they propitiated me contact with someone from the society, whom I asked for help to establish links with several of its members, and that person told me the best was myself to do all the procedures, and he paid for my membership for an entire year.
What have been the interviews that have had more impact on the blog?
I think that from all the interviews the most widely read and most influential one has been that of Peter C. Bjarkman, an American historian of Cuban baseball with great knowledge, but with very controversial opinions. When Cuba lost the 2011 IBAF Baseball World Cup in Panama against the Netherlands, I also managed to interview Cuba’s rival head coach, Brian Farley, and this interview had such an impact that ended up on page 8 of AHORA newspaper, in the space devoted to interviews with personalities . Another person who also made an impact was the Cuban Michel Abreu when he was home runs leader in the Pacific League in Japan last year, and almost in unison another one that I made to Dutch Wladimir Balentien before breaking the home run record in a season of the great Sadaharu Oh. There have been quite curious characters who have also answered my questions, such as Justine Siegal, the first woman who pitched to a major league team in a batting practice, Marti Sementeli, USA women’s team pitcher with a college baseball scholarship, and Dutchmen Sidney de Jong and Rob Cordemans, with whom I maintain a very good communication.
Although you write with professional depth on sports opinion, and you work in a Cuban newspaper, you do not belong to the Association of Cuban Journalists (UPEC by its Spanish acronym). Is there any known reason…?
I have not the slightest idea, but I think the fact that I have no academy journalism training has influenced much on that. My documents are in the hands of people who should do for my integration since two years ago, but outside of that I had to wait a while for the congress of the organization to pass to make new processes, I have no idea what has happened. I have lost a lot of opportunities for improvement by not belonging to UPEC, especially at José Martí International Institute of Journalism. That’s really the benefit that interested me the most from all the potential ones. I can honestly say that I have felt discriminated myself, although this situation affects me less and less … on one side when a door closes, two others can be opened on the other side.
It is hard to imagine an author such recognized in terms of baseball as a collector of MLB cards. How did this hobby start, and which are the most precious cards for you?
This hobby started when I was in fifth grade, I got a damaged card of the Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon through Nelson Rodriguez. It was quite shabby, but I kept it until a few years ago I decided to return it to him, because he was the first of all the people I met who had one and he was surprised to see that I still had it and how well preserved it was (within possible, of course). Then in high school I managed to get one of Fred McGriff, and later others of Greg Maddux, Ken Griffey Jr., etcetera. Several people, when seeing my hobby provided me some others, and so my collection has grown to over 700 today. I once wrote about these cards, also known as trading cards, and several readers have been contacting me for that post, and have been offering me theirs … I think it has become even in a forum, it has more than 70 comments.
One of my readers, Julio Bermudez, has opened a link with me, and we have exchanged letters. He has even sent me some cards. Other people like Sheila McWaters and Heidi Firman, have also discovered that I have this hobby and have sent me quite a few, some up to 26 years. Among the ones I most appreciated I include those of Greg Maddux and Ichiro Suzuki (the latter sent by Bermúdez) because they are two of my favorite players of all time. But I zealously keep those in which the ” protagonists” are Cuban or Cuban descent players, just for pure national romanticism: Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, David Segui, Jon Jay, Jose Contreras, Yunel Escobar, Yunieski Betancourt and Alexei Ramirez. I think it’s an extremely healthy hobby that never hurts those who practice it, and teaches much about history, statistics and photography … and I hope that one day we may have in Cuba those of our players in the National Series, why not?