In these times when the whole world is in turmoil, when our country is more divided than ever, facing potential changes that might alter our Nation forever, it becomes really hard to find relief from anxiety.
As the saying goes “every cloud has a silver lining” and for me it is the game of baseball.
Like every child born in Cuba, I was brought up a fan of the sport. My ability to play unfortunately did not match my desire, but I still engaged with the other more talented children for the simple reason that I brought the bats, gloves, and balls.
The upcoming start of a new season, still under limitations cause by the pandemic, brought memories of my favorite club Almendares with the stars, Roberto Ortiz, Fermin Guerra, Santos Amaro, Willie Miranda, among many others.
It was the first months of Castro’s regime before he stopped professional baseball in the country, when we had a team that was very close to joining the Major leagues, the Sugar Kings, a triple AAA club.
“Bobby” Maduro bought a minor league team in 1954 called “Havana Cubans” and made it part of the International League. Our family had season tickets, my cousin Fernando, Ramon, and I came to the games obsessing about the attendance and the quality of the players sent to us by our “parent” team, the Cincinnati Reds.
Great players, in and out of the majors played for that team. Of note, Luis Arroyo, “Pompeyo” Davalillo, Elio Chacon, Daniel Morejon, and more recent as stars in the U.S. Miguel Cuellar, “Tony” Gonzalez, “Leo” Cardenas, and “Cookie” Rojas.
Led by future major league manager “Preston” Gomez the Sugar Kings conquered the favorites Columbus and Richmond teams and won the AAA World Series defeating the American Association team the Minneapolis Millers in seven games. It was a classic due to several factors.
Castro’s armed “milicianos” were all around. It was common practice for them to voice their joy and/or displeasure by shooting their machine guns into the air. Our team had won in Minneapolis, but the star-studded favorite team won in Havana taking the game to the seventh. A Boston Red Sox farm team, the “Millers” was managed by Gene Mauch and had players of stature like Carl Yastrzemski.
They were ahead by 2 runs when in the eighth inning with 2 outs and the tying runs on base a bench player “Larry” Novak came to bat. A left hander he was facing another “lefty”, looking terrible in the first two strikes swinging.
As the lousy fan that I am, I told my cousins that I was going to the bathroom because the strike out was certain. When approaching the facilities, a roar of the crowd made me return.
Against all odds good old Larry had batted a seeing-eye roller that tied the game. The championship was earned with another run in the ninth, a “walk-off” double by Morejon.
A disappointed group of players returned to the U.S. but with memories that would never be forgotten.
Sport writer Stew Thorney wrote “few Junior Series were more exciting—and none more bizarre—than the 1959 affair between the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association and the International League’s Havana Sugar Kings. Not only were two contests, including the decisive seventh game, decided in the last of the ninth inning and another two in extra innings, but it was the only Junior Series in which the submachine guns outnumbered the bats.”
When soon thereafter Castro began the destruction of our beautiful country, baseball as we knew it also suffered its demise.
I had experienced the games here when as a camper in Culver Military I attended Chicago Cubs and White Sox events, staring Minnie Miñoso, at a time when the games were played in daylight. I also witnessed the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia “Phillies” in the 1950 World Series, a rout pitched by the then “rookie” “Whitey” Ford and led by “Yogi” Berra and “Joe” DiMaggio.
It is time for repose from the Democrat and the Republican Party, gridlock, and COVID, in order to join Harry Caray from a Stadium in baseball heaven in singing:
Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For its one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.