HAVANA — It’s not just the music and fifth-inning coffee breaks that make baseball different in Cuba.
For the first two games of Penn State University’s four-game exhibition tour against clubs from this nation’s top league, one member of the umpire crew has been female.
Meet Janet Moreno Mendinueta, the only female ump in Cuba’s Serie Nacional. She’s one of seven women umpires in this country at any level.
«In umpiring, I see my dreams come true,» Moreno said Wednesday after she handled home-plate duties in the Nittany Lions’ 2-0 loss to Ciego de Ávila. Her highlight came when she nailed a close call as Penn State catcher Ryan Sloniger tagged out a sliding Yorbis Borroto at the plate.
Moreno played in Cuba’s women’s leagues for years until, she said, she aged out of the leagues that are available to women. Cuba has women’s baseball, not softball, leagues that begin at age 15.
In Moreno’s case, she took on umpiring to stay close to the game she loves. She’s the only woman who can officiate games for the men at the highest level. There are six other women in the lower leagues who are working their way up.
«Little by little, we have achieved the inclusion of women, [for which] I was the driving force,» Moreno said.
Moreno said that, in Cuba, the atmosphere for women who are involved in the game is changing.
«There isn’t as much machismo,» she said. «When people see women on the field, they are happy because they see we’ve crossed that barrier.»
Because she was born near the Estadio Latinoamericano, the island’s most famous ballpark, the game has always been a huge part of Moreno’s life. Her father took her to games for years from an early age, feeding her a bottle in the stands.
«I spend more time on the field than I do at home,» she said.
When she’s not making calls behind the plate or in the field, Moreno is a fan of the game, too. Her favorite team in Cuba is her own crew of umpires, but in the United States, her player of choice is Los Angeles Angels superstar Albert Pujols.
«He’s an example of discipline on the field … and he’s serious about playing baseball. I like that very much,» Moreno said.
Moreno won’t be in the crew for Penn State’s final two games, which are out of town on Friday and Saturday — the Nittany Lions were winless after two games — but she hopes to be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games as an official.
Said Moreno: «I’m going to stay with baseball until the very end.»