By Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Cuban star catcher Frank Camilo Morejon, 34, never imagined playing baseball in an empty stadium, abiding by strict social distancing guidelines and rigorous health protocols.
With no spectators allowed in the stands, the Cuban National Baseball Series has kicked off as the country's government steps up lockdown measures to contain a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
"Playing to an empty stadium is weird," said the captain of the Havana Industriales baseball team.
"I miss the din of the crowd, but now we must follow safety protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contagion," Morejon continued, adding that the catchers are highly exposed to physical proximity with baseball players and umpires.
During the past weeks, nearly 600 baseball players, managers and coaches participated in closed-door training sessions.
According to sports authorities on the island, during the domestic championship, baseball players will be subjected to regular PCR tests and temperature checks as part of epidemiological monitoring.
Ernesto Reinoso, Cuba's national director of baseball, said that the sport will continue to accompany the Cuban people during the pandemic.
"This is almost an emergency tournament due to the COVID-19 crisis, but we assume it with a high sense of responsibility," he said on TV.
Consequently, dugouts have been sanitized with chlorine solutions and baseball players have been provided with disinfectant.
Also, fist bumps, high-fives, handshakes, and any other sort of greetings are prohibited during the games.
"Rapid tests will be conducted before baseball players have to move to other provinces," said Francisco Montesinos, head of the national medical commission of baseball in Cuba.
It comes as Havana extended the night-time curfew for two more weeks. Public transport across the country has been suspended again, and stricter social distancing rules have been adopted nationwide.
The COVID-19 pandemic in the Caribbean nation disrupted sports events after the government suspended national competitions and closed gyms in March.
New COVID-19 cases dropped to zero in Cuba on July 20 for the first time after the onset of the pandemic, but have been surging since July 24.
Havana, the country's epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has so far recorded more than half of the confirmed COVID-19 cases on the island.
Currently, most baseball games are taking place outside of western Cuba, the country's region hardest hit by the virus.
Havana resident Lazaro Garriga, 32, told Xinhua that baseball fans in the Caribbean island are grateful for the return of the Cuban National Baseball Series, whose regular schedule is due to end by December this year.
"We are happy to follow the baseball games, at least, on TV," he said. "It could help us better deal with the COVID-19 crisis while staying home. Baseball is our national sport."
So far, 4,684 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Cuba as the death toll stands at 108. Enditem