Ariel Osvaldo Pestano Valdés
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 180 lb.
Ariel Pestano was the catcher for the Cuban national team from 1999-2009. He led the Cuban leagues in percentage of runners caught stealing and fielding percentage on several occasions.
Pestano played in the 1991 and 1992 World Junior Championship for Cuba. In the 1993-1994 Cuban Serie Nacional, Pestano helped Villa Clara win the title. In the final game of the championship, Pestano scored the winning run following a key double. He was 0 for 1 in the 1995 World Port Tournament and hit .235/~.278/.647 with 2 homers for Cuba in the 1996 Haarlem Baseball Week.
In the 1996-1997 Serie Nacional playoffs, he led the way with 11 doubles.
Ariel made his debut with the Cuban national team in the 1999 Baltimore Orioles-Cuban National Team Exhibition Series. He remained with Cuba in the 1999 Pan American Games, the first time that other teams used professional players. Pestano hit .333 as one of the club's top hitters as they won. In one of the most dramatic scenes in Pan American Games history, Pestano tackled a protester who ran onto the field to charge pitcher José Ibar in a game against Team Canada. Pestano also played for Cuba against the Orioles in their historic series. Pestano batted .258/.302/.323 in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, which Cuba lost to Australia.
Pestano only hit .211/.286/.211 in the 2000 Olympics and went 0 for 2 against Ben Sheets when Cuba lost in the Gold Medal game against Team USA. In the 2001 Baseball World Cup, Pestano was finally on a successful Cuban national squad. He hit .238/.273/.333 in the event. Pestano fared little better in the 2002 Intercontinental Cup, hitting .212/.257/.273.
Pestano batted .174/.208/.174 for Cuba in the 2003 Baseball World Cup but the rest of the team again picked up the slack in a win. In the qualifiers for the 2004 Olympics, Ariel hit .500 to tie for the lead and cracked a 2-run triple in the final game. In the 2003 Pan American Games, Pestano batted .333. He hit a double, homer and had 2 RBI in the 3-1 victory over Team USA in the Gold Medal game.
Pestano had his best performance in an international competition during the 2004 Olympics. He hit an amazing .514/.528/.743 and drove in 14 runs in 9 games. He edged Shinya Miyamoto by 14 points for the top average in the competition. He tied Miyamoto for the most hits (18) and had the most RBI, four ahead of runner-up Kosuke Fukudome.
In the 2005 Baseball World Cup, Pestano batted .293/.341/.537 with 10 RBI in 11 games for the champion Cuban team. He hit .194/.219/.323 for Cuba as they finished second in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. That fall, he batted .364/.517/.682 in the qualifiers for the 2008 Olympics to help Cuba gain a berth. Pestano hit .364/.444/.364 for Cuba when they won Gold in the 2006 Central American and Caribbean Games.
In the 2006 Intercontinental Cup, Pestano hit .367/.441/.633 with 9 RBI in nine games. His two homers tied many players for second, one behind leader Brad Harman. Ariel tied for 4th in RBI, even with Frederich Cepeda, Yung-Chi Chen, Ivanon Coffie, Gino Lollio and Giuseppe Mazzanti. He trailed Yoandry Urgellés, Young-seop Bae and Sharnol Adriana. Pestano made the tournament All-Star team as the top catcher.
He batted .267/.353/.267 in the 2007 Pan American Games as Cuba won Gold. In the 2007 Baseball World Cup, the veteran contributed a .241/.290/.241 line and was 0 for 4 in the Gold Medal game loss to Team USA.
Pestano hit .305/.430/.442 in the 2007-2008 season. He drew 53 walks while only striking out 21 times. He won the Gold Glove Award at catcher as well. Pestano batted .267/.258/.533 with 8 RBI in 8 games in the 2008 Olympics; he hit a 2-run homer against China and 3-run homer against the USA.
Despite a strong start to 2008-2009, Pestano announced on January 28 that he would retire following the 2009 Baseball World Cup to work with his son, a catching prospect. Pestano hit .308/.357/.692 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, finishing 4th on Cuba in OPS. His big hit of the tourney was a 3-run homer off Luis Ayala in a win over Mexico.
Pestano finished his farewell tour on a worse note, winding up the year with a .257/.407/.443 batting line in a hitter's league. He did throw out 13 of 19 attempted base stealers.
Sources: Radio Coco profile, 1996 Haarlem Baseball Week stats, IBAF site, A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Bjarkman, 2007 Pan American Games site, World Baseball Classic site, Cuban Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, 2008 Olympics, Central American and Caribbean Games, Baseballdecuba.com