By Yusseff Díaz
Vicyohandri Odelin is a very underrated pitcher in the Cuban League and especially internationally. The native Camagüey, Cuba has been an Olympic, World, Pan-am, and Central American champion during his career.
The crafty right and his sidewinder pitch was a key cog for Cuba in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. His strikeout of Ivan Rodríguez in the second round of the WBC to catapult Cuba into the semifinals will forever live in Cuban folklore.
In the 2014 Caribbean World Series, his 123 pitch complete game 2-1 victory over Puerto Rican champ Mayagüez was also another legendary outing. He has always saved his best outings for the team for his sister island.
During his 16 Serie Nacionales the righthander won a total of 124 games, had an ERA of 3.30, and struck out 1,118 batters. He is one of the pitchers from Camagüey with 100 wins and 1,000 punchouts. Saying that Odelin is a legend in Cuba isn’t an understatement.
You have a unique pitch, which was named the sidewinder by Ariel Pestano. Where and how did you learn that pitch?
I learned that pitch playing vitilla ( Cuban whiffleball) like any other kid on the streets of Cuba. I also saw how Greg Maddux threw his slider in a magazine and also incorporated that into the pitch.
I threw it one day and broadcasters Eddy Martín and Héctor Rodríguez asked Pestano what kind of pitch did I throw because of its funny break, he replied the sidewinder and that name stuck.
You were part of an Olympic team and a World Baseball Classic team, which tournament impressed you more?
Unequivocally the Classic impressed me the most. It was the first time we faced MLB stars, before that we would see them on TV and in magazines. In this tournament, we went “mano a mano” with them. I was impressed by the tournament and its combatants but I still went out and did my job.
Your strikeout of Iván Rodríguez secured Cuba’s path to the semifinals of the WBC. What was your mindset heading into that last pitch?
That game was life or death and there was no room for error. I was totally focused on the mound. I felt elated when I struck him out because we were only up by a run and he’s a legend. We enjoyed that victory as a team beating a team as talented as Puerto Rico in their stadium.
You basically pitched the best game in the Caribbean World Series against Mayagüez. What motivated you to take the mound that day considering it wasn’t your turn in the rotation?
Well, I had a great Serie Nacional that year and Ramón Moré selected me to reinforce Villa Clara for the tournament. We weren’t having a good tournament as of then, so I felt it was my duty to step up and take the ball that day. It gave me great pride to throw such a great game that day especially because it had been 50 years since we participated in that tournament.
You excel against teams from Puerto Rico in international tournaments, why is that?
Many people have asked me that and I say it’s just by coincidence. I always go out to do my job and happen to coincide with them either out of the pen or in the rotation. My objective has always been to win against my opposition no matter who it is or where they are from.
You decided to come out of retirement after two years last season with Camagüey. What led you to that decision?
I was training the youth of Camagüey at Miguel Borroto’s academy and he asked me to come back. I thought about it and later obliged after consulting with my family. I hold Miguel Borroto in high regard and felt I owed to him, so I decided to pitch one more year.
Camagüey had a young and talented pitching staff last year, what wisdom did you pass on to them?
That staff is definitely very young and talented. I advised them to always train hard and give 110%. I set the example every day and they followed it, you don’t win 100 games in the Serie Nacional by accident. If you don’t train hard you will never achieve your goals.
That staff has all the talent in the world with maturity they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Will you return for one more season with the Toros?
I think I got it all out of my system last season and I understand my time has come and gone. I’m going to serve as a coach next year and I want to give that my undivided attention.
I’m entering another era in my life and I feel that I owe it to Cuba’s young pitchers to share my experience and wisdom with them.
What’s your opinion about a rumored unified Cuban team on the horizon?
That is the best thing that could happen to Cuban baseball. Unified we are a world power in baseball. If that happens it will be something monumental.
We are appreciative that our brothers have made their mark in the professional arena and we take great pride in that, but our baseball needs their help now.
At the end of the day they are Cubans just like us and are of our blood. I hope the unified team really happens.