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Cuban Baseball Expert Peter Bjarkman Remembered For His Passion

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Peter Bjarkman (Photo courtesy of Ray Otero)

Peter Bjarkman, one of the leading chroniclers and supporters of Cuban baseball, died on Oct. 1 in Havana, Cuba. He was 77.

Bjarkman was born in the U.S., but developed an affinity for Cuban baseball at the peak of its powers. Cuban baseball dominated international baseball in the 1980s and 1990s, winning nine consecutive Baseball World Cups from 1985-2005 while also winning gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. It was during that time that Bjarkman became one of the leading English-speaking experts on baseball on the island. He covered their success on the international stage, but also focused on the national league–Serie Nacional–and its stars.

At the time, there was very little interaction between baseball in Cuba and Major League Baseball, but Bjarkman knew pretty much anyone and everyone associated with the Cuban national team and Serie Nacional. He authored multiple books on baseball in Cuba and won a Society of Baseball Research Henry Chadwick Award for his work to chronicle the history of baseball on the island.

Bjarkman is probably most widely famous for appearing alongside Anthony Bourdain on Bourdain’s trip to Cuba for his television show “No Reservations.” Bjarkman recently wrote a remembrance of Bourdain recounting their time watching baseball together.

Bjarkman’s fame grew as he covered the decline of Cuban baseball, a subject that bothered him deeply. Bjarkman was as much a Cuban baseball advocate as a journalist and was unabashed in his love of the golden age of Cuban baseball. He did not enjoy seeing Cuba’s best players leave to play Major League Baseball. As late as the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Cuba was able to field a roster of Major League caliber players who were playing in Serie Nacional as it lost in the championship game to Japan.

But the trickle of players coming from Cuba to the U.S. during their primes turned into a flood over the next decade. Bjarkman was quoted by many publications who plummed his expertise for insights on the players as the came to the majors, but it also disappointed him to see the quality of play in Serie Nacional diminish was players left the island at younger and younger ages.

"(I will) remember his enormous passion and love for Cuban baseball even under the actual circumstances," his cohort at BaseballDeCuba.com Ray Otero said. "One good memory was during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Cuba beat Mexico that day and during the game Peter joined the ESPN crew offering insights about the Cuban players. After the game, we spent almost three hours just talking baseball with Orel Hershiser and it was magnificent. Of course, it wasn’t the only time we did that but that one was very special."

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