player profile Rafael José Ferrer Barzaga is a 27-year-old center fielder for the Toros team in the ESSL, who currently lives in Bern, Switzerland, with his wife and his young daughter. A native of Cuba, Rafael can trace his baseball roots back to his childhood, and those memories are very different for him than they are for many young players of the bat and ball sport today. “Baseball is the national sport in Cuba,” recalls Barzaga. “I started to play the game when I was just six years old. I met with my friends on the street and we played baseball every weekend using a glued ball we made out of paper! Real baseballs were a rarity, which is why you would always see a lot of people waiting behind the outfield fences of a stadium to grab a home run ball. If you caught one, you either used it personally or for your team or you sold the ball. “Gloves were also rare at those times, and the few gloves we had were shared between one another. I personally didn’t have my own glove for a long time; I was nineteen before I had my own, as one day my dad brought me one and it was a very special moment for me. That was the situation in Cuba. It was difficult to get equipment, and the fields were shabby but you learned how to play the game and also to grab any opportunity to get outside of that world. For most of us in Cuba, it’s true we didn’t have everything but we still loved our life no matter how tough it was.” Barzaga explains that baseball is a passion in Cuba and the schools do organize some competition for the sport. He also says it is rare to find someone there who participates in a single sport in the country. For himself, he has tried nearly every sport that was available, including boxing, judo and archery among others. He did receive an offer for a baseball tryout as he was watched for his speed, but in the end, he says, he did not have the total package in the sport that scouts looked for. Barzaga’s transition to slowpitch came this year with the Toros when they joined the ESSL. Before that, at the age of 21, he played fastpitch softball because of a friend who invited him to play for a cup in Camaguey. “I never played softball and for me it was very different,” he says. “However, I got used to it and began to enjoy it. In baseball I always looked to Luis Ulasia, a Cuban player, as my example. What I like about him is mainly his speed, his reactions and reflexes. For me, Luis Ulasa is a complete baseball player. Besides him I like Ken Griffey Jr., for his baserunning style.” “Playing in the ESSL is so much fun,” he says. “This year was the first time I played the sport of slowpitch softball and I was really surprised how much fun it is to play this game. For me, I feel that there is more speed and action involved in the game than in baseball. I am so glad that the Toros joined the league this year! Our team, the Toros, is a Suisse team that was originally founded by Venezuelan players, with Javier Hernandez being the founder and manager of the team. Now, it is a multi-cultural team with players from Suisse, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, USA, and other countries. The first year was a learning curve, but we were able to reach the third place at our home tournament in Bern, Switzerland. Next year we will close the gap between us and the other teams and we expect to be within the top four teams. “Personally, my goal is to become the best center fielder in the ESSL and to steal the most bases, as well as defend my 2015 title as the inside-the-park home runs leader! I also enjoy stealing bases, as that is very challenging for me. I am so happy that in the ESSL we play with base stealing and I am able to bring my speed into the game and give an advantage to my team.” Besides sports, Barzaga’s loves are music, dancing and his wife and young daughter, who when possible travel with him and watch him play throughout Europe. Traveling does become expensive, he notes, though his singing career has enabled him to earn enough so that they can travel together much of the time. To him, those are the best tournaments, although traveling with his teammates is always enjoyable, too. He is very grateful that his wife is supportive of him and his desire to play and travel. “Music is how I met my wife,” he explains. “It’s also how I came to be in Switzerland. I was there with a band, and she was in the audience. We were playing Son and Salsa to a big crowd and there she was! We met, married and have our beautiful daughter. My life was forever changed in that moment.” Barzaga lists his loves as family, music and slowpitch softball. “I play with passion and try to be contagious with my emotion amongst my teammates,” he says. “Setting a good atmosphere and example is very important to me. I don’t usually speak too much, but in a game, I try to speak with my bat and my plays. My teammates pick up on that and that is how I influence them. It is most important to have a team spirit, and play to win. The only chance you can do that in a team sport is if everyone gives their best and motivates one another. “The goal of a game is clearly to win and to give all the best to achieve this as a team. In Spanish we say, ‘Dar el alma en el campo!!’ This means something like, ‘Give the soul in the field.’ That’s what I like to do!”
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