It didn’t take long for the team from Matanzas, Cuba to wow the capacity crowd at Butler Park on Sunday.
In the top of the first inning, clean-up hitter Randy Camarza launched a two-run home run that landed on the roof of the Greater Trail Aquatic Centre to give the Union de Reyes visitors a 2-0 lead over the senior men’s Trail AM Ford Orioles.
After falling 5-0 to Union de Reyes in a match in Grand Forks on Saturday, the Cuban team earned a 12-6 victory on Sunday as well. But winning and losing was not of utmost importance as both teams played entertaining baseball, punctuated by some acrobatic plays and the odd miscue.
“It was certainly fun to be involved in an international game,” said Orioles manager Kevin Oliver. “It was good and I think they had a good experience and enjoyed themselves.”
Union de Reyes arrived in Canada on June 1 and has been playing non-stop baseball since landing in Victoria. They now head to Grand Forks for the International Baseball Tournament starting Tuesday.
“This is the third time that we are here in Canada and all the time we’ve really enjoyed being here and playing against the beautiful players and wonderful teams,” Cuba’s head coach Basallo said through his interpreter. “As much as I enjoyed it, the rest of the boys did the same.”
The Orioles were hoping for a good start on Sunday but the Cuban bats jumped on the Orioles immediately and Union de Reyes’ pitcher Andy Rodriguez was all but unhittable through four innings. After taking a 2-0 lead, Cuba added an unearned run in the second inning on a Jorge Reyes single, then struck for three more in the top of the third.
Four straight singles from Enday Solis, Yonny Matos, Camarza, and Alberto Bello started the third, followed by a sac fly, a fielder’s choice and a single by Reyes gave the Cubans a commanding 6-0 lead.
Union de Reyes also impressed with their speed on the base paths as a diminutive Jose Cespedes went from first to third on a errant pick-off throw at first base, then stole home on a soft toss back to the mound in the top of the fourth to make it 7-0.
After stranding two runners in the fourth, Trail battled back in the fifth inning. The Orioles DH Brad Ross and Ross St. Jean led off with back-to-back singles, and Cam Strachan belted a double into the left-centerfield gap to get the Orioles on the board. Joey Underwood reached base with an infield single to score St. Jean, and Kyle Mace hit a sac fly to make it 7-3. Dallas Calvin then hit a line drive into right-centre to make it 7-4 and Matt Larmour doubled in Calvin to bring the Orioles to within two runs heading into the top of six.
Starter Chris Kissock gave way to pitcher Scott Reinhold in the fifth and the southpaw kept the Cubans off balance through three innings as Union de Reyes managed one run in the seventh and one in the eighth for a 9-5 lead heading into the ninth. The Orioles had runners in scoring position in the sixth and eighth innings but couldn’t push them across.
The Cubans put the game out of reach in the ninth, as Solis’ double off the top of the right field fence scored one, then Matos stroked a two-run bomb to deep centre to make it 12-5, leaving a lasting impression on the Oriole faithful.
“Everyone on their team can pitch, and they are so fundamentally sound and they can run and throw and field, it’s impressive,” said Oliver. “Our defence wasn’t as good as it was yesterday, yesterday (in Grand Forks) it was flawless.”
Trail managed one more run in the ninth for the 12-6 final. After the third out was made, the two teams shook hands, and embraced in front of home plate, then took time for photos and to meet with the fans.
The Union de Reyes players also continued to practice while the last spectator left the building and the Orioles put the field to bed.
The next stop is the GFI, and for Basallo and the rest of the Cuban team, they look forward to the opportunity to play some of the top Men’s teams from the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s an honour for us to be invited to this tournament,” said Basallo. “We don’t know the teams, we just hope to enjoy this and we’ll see what happens.
“All the teams here are very good. They do their best and we do our best too.”
Orioles second baseman Ross St. Jean went 3-for-4 at the plate, while Cuba’s Matos was 4-for-6 with a home run, and Solis went 3-for-5 with a double.
The Cuban team plays their first game of the GFI Tuesday night at 7 p.m. versus the Burnaby Bulldogs.