Another Fidel chronicler, Peter G. Fidel was so driven in this way that he once wagered a school chum he could ride his bicycle full speed into a brick wall. He succeeded, but the attempt actually landed him in the school infirmary for several weeks. Fidel is reported by Bourne to have showed up uninvited at two of these camps between his junior and senior years, largely to prove to school chums that he might indeed be good enough to earn a pro contract offer.
Castro, in other words, sought out Cambria and the pro scouts and not vice versa. Nonetheless, no contract was ever offered to the hard-but-wild- throwing prospect. And as biographer Bourne stresses, any offer would almost certainly have been rejected in any case. Fidel was a privileged youth from a wealthy family and thus had other prospects looming on the horizon a lucrative career in law and politics far more promising than pro baseball.
Ball-playing as an occupation would actually have been a step down for any prospective law student of that decade. The future politician displayed an abiding fascination for ball-playing especially basketball and soccer, as later interviews would reveal that would remain with him in future years. But it was unquestionably evident even to Fidel during college days that he had little serious talent as a baseball hurler. Furthermore, political activities preoccupied the ambitious law student from onward and left almost no available time for any serious practice on the baseball field.
While his numerous biographers cover every aspect of his life in painstaking detail, none mention any further tryouts for baseball scouts, any serious playing on organized teams, indeed any baseball activity at all until his eventual renewed passion for the game as a dedicated fan. And the latter came only after the successful rise to political power in January Szulc reports an interview in which Fidel suddenly and unexpectedly began to expound on the important symbolic values of his favored schoolboy sport, basketball. Basketball, Fidel would observe, could provide valuable indirect training for revolutionary activity.
It was a game requiring strategic and tactical planning and overall cunning, plus speed and agility, the true elements of guerrilla warfare. Baseball, Fidel further noted, held no such promise for a future revolutionary.
Previewing the District 2 baseball championships at PNC Field
Central here are oft-recounted but rarely accurately portrayed exhibition-game appearances at stadiums in Havana and elsewhere across the island during the first decade following the Communist takeover. Fidel is reported by Democrat and Chronicle writer George Beahon to have practiced all day in his hotel room for his two-inning stint with the Cuban Army pick-up team which faced a squad of military police.
The entire latter-day public impression of Fidel as talented moundsman in the U. If Major Cienfuegos would not risk upstaging Comandante Castro, the activities of lesser-known henchmen soon enough would. Fulgencio Batista had fled the island on January 1, , allowing Castro-led rebels to seize effective control of the entire country. The July 26 date commemorated a failed attack by Castro-led student rebels against the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, an event that subsequently lent its name to the entire Castro-inspired revolutionary movement.
What followed that night in El Cerro Stadium was as much a comedy of errors as it was a tragedy of misunderstanding. And once more the facts surrounding the shooting incident itself, and the stadium frenzy that both preceded and followed, rarely get told correctly.
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Havana scored in the bottom of the eighth to win the preliminary and thus the festive stadium mood was further enlivened. Veteran big-leaguer Bob Keegan had mopped up the preliminary game since he had also been the starter of the suspended game in June and was once more on tap by accident of the pitching rotation to start the regularly scheduled affair to follow. Keegan pitched courageously despite the oppressive heat and held a lead into the bottom of the eighth when sweltering humidity finally sapped his energy and Deal resignedly changed hurlers.
Tom Hurd closed the door in the eighth, but a walk and a homer by Cuban slugger Borrego Alvarez in the bottom of the ninth spelled dreaded extra innings. Next to unfold was the dramatic patriotic interruption. With the crowd — an overflow throng which topped 35, — now at fever pitch, the regulation game was halted at the stroke of midnight; stadium lights were quickly extinguished, press box spotlights focused on a giant Cuban flag in center field and the Cuban anthem was played slowly and reverently.
As soon as stadium lighting was rekindled, however, all hell broke loose and the air was suddenly filled with spasms of celebratory gunfire launched from both inside and outside the ballpark. A close Havana friend of the author, in attendance that night, would recently recounts how a patron seated next to him near the visiting team dugout emptied several rounds from his pistol directly into the on-deck circle.
Deal also vividly recalls one overzealous Cuban soldier perhaps the selfsame individual unloading an automatic pistol into the ground directly in front of the Red Wings dugout. Play resumed with further sporadic gunfire occasionally punctuating the diamond actions.
Infielder Billy Harrell homered in the top of the 11th to give Rochester the momentary lead, but in the bottom of the frame the home club rallied and the crowd thus again reached new heights of delirium. When Sugar Kings catcher Jesse Gonder an American led off the bottom of the frame with a hit slapped down the left-field line and raced toward second, he seemed at least to skipper Deal to skip over the first-base sack while rounding the bag, an event unnoticed by the rooting throng but one that predictably sent manager Deal racing on-field to argue with umpires stationed at both first and home.
Gonder soon scored the lone run of the inning and the contest continued into the 12th once more knotted, now at four apiece. Having already been banished to the clubhouse, Deal himself would not be on hand to witness firsthand the further drama that next unfolded. Back on the field, fate and happenstance were once more about to intervene. By now the frightened umps and ballplayers had seen enough. The game was immediately suspended by the umpires as Verdi, still dazed, was hastily carried by ashen teammates toward the Rochester locker room, followed closely by a wild swarm of escaping ballplayers.
Deal oblivious to on-field events had just stepped from the shower when his panic-stricken team burst into the clubhouse carrying the barely conscious Frank Verdi. The runway outside the Red Wings dressing room was pure chaos as the umpires and ballplayers from both clubs scrambled for safety within the bowels of the ballpark.
While umpires next desperately tried to phone league president Frank Shaughnessy back in New York for a ruling on the chaotic situation, manager Deal and his general manager, George Sisler Jr. It was to get their team safely back to the downtown Hotel Nacional and then swiftly onto the next available plane routed for Rochester or at least Miami. But some Cuban fans in attendance at the packed El Cerro Stadium that night a few have been interviewed over the years by the author in Havana today hold very different memories of the event, perhaps colored by the changing perspective or fading recollections of several passing decades.
And Cuban baseball officials at the time also had a slightly different interpretation, vociferously denying that the situation was ever truly out of control and pressing the Rochester manager and general manager to continue both the suspended match and the regularly scheduled game on tap for the following afternoon. Captain Felipe Guerra Matos, newly appointed director of the Cuban sports ministry, one week later cabled Rochester team officials with a formal and truly heart-felt apology, assuring Red Wings brass that Havana was entirely safe for baseball and that their team and all other International League ball clubs would be guaranteed the utmost security on all future trips to the island.
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Guerra Matos saw the events of the evening only as a spontaneous outpouring of unbridled nationalistic joy and revolutionary fervor by emotional Cuban soldiers and enthusiastic if unruly peasants, and thus a celebration of freedom no more unseemly perhaps than many stateside Fourth of July celebrations. But Deal and Sisler at the time persisted, despite the pressures and threats of Cuban officials which continued throughout the night and subsequent morning.
Deal and Sisler held fast in their refusals and eventually the government bureaucrats departed in a barely controlled fit of anger. Deal sensed that the failed Sunday morning meeting would be most difficult for their hosts to explain to their government superiors and perhaps even to Fidel himself. The bottom-line result of the eventful weekend — which first saw Fidel take the mound and later witnessed chaos overtake the ballpark — was the beginning of the end for International League baseball on the communist-controlled island.
But the death knell would be slow to peal for the Havana franchise. And Fidel the baseball fan was of course a fixture at both events, although frequent reports of Comandante Castro and his comrades toting firearms, strolling uninvited inside and atop the dugouts, and even intimidating first Richmond and later Minneapolis ballplayers with threats of violent intervention have likely been mildly if not wildly exaggerated. Fidel did continue over the next decade and more to play informally in frequent pickup games with his inner circle of revolutionary colleagues.
Biographer Quirk reports that Camilo Cienfuegos was able to maintain favor with Fidel for a time largely because of his ball playing skills. Fidel himself made numerous such exhibition appearances in Havana, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, and elsewhere around the island. It was the already deteriorating relationships between Washington and the Cuban government during that very year, and the one that followed, that more than anything led to the sudden relocation of the Cuban International League franchise in July from Havana to Jersey City.
In turn, that decision to strip Cuba of its professional baseball franchise may — as much as anything else in the early stages of the Cuban Revolutionary regime — have worked to sour Fidel Castro on the United States and its at least from the Cuban point of view blatant imperialist policies. Legislation to ban amateur sports was one of the earliest achievements of the Castro government and it laid the foundation for modern-era Cuban baseball. Another novel innovation was the decision that there would never be any admission charges for sporting contests, a policy that lasted almost to the end of the 20th century.
The historic initial season staged in the spring of lasted little more than a full month and followed by less than nine months the clandestine U. The photo reproduced in this article captures the original first series landmark base knock.
There is sufficient evidence that these claims were more than rumors. The plan for building strong national amateur squads drawn from domestic league play soon proved a resounding success. For 40 full years beginning with the IBAF World Championship in Santo Domingo and stretching to the second MLB-sponsored World Baseball Classic in , Cuban teams would dominate world amateur competitions, and few if any other achievements of the Cuban Revolution have provided nearly as hefty a source of either bolstered national identity or marked international successes.
In the astute phrasing of one noted U. In an interview segment several pages later Fidel comments effusively on his life-long love for sport, emphasizing basketball, chess, deep-sea diving and soccer as his lasting favorites. But there is nary a mention of the national game of baseball. It is clear from historical records that Fidel was an accomplished and enthusiastic athlete as a precocious youngster.
His many biographers underscore his repeated use of schoolboy athletics especially basketball, track and baseball to excel among fellow students. It was also a calculated step toward utilizing baseball as a means of besting the hated imperialists at their own game. And baseball was early on also seen by the Maximum Leader as an instrument of revolutionary politics — a means to build revolutionary spirit at home and to construct ongoing and headline-grabbing international propaganda triumphs abroad.
Fidel may not have exercised much control over his fastball in long-lost schoolboy days. But it was only as political figurehead and Maximum Leader — not as legitimate ballplayer — that Fidel Castro emerged as one of the most remarkable figures found anywhere in Cuban baseball history. As a pitcher he was perhaps never more than the smoky essence of unrelenting myth.
Archive for Prospect List
Perhaps former U. As McCarthy so astutely observed, an aspiring pitcher with a long memory, once spurned, can indeed be a most dangerous man. Bjarkman, Peter C. Castro, Fidel. Deal, Ellis F. Hoak, Don with Myron Cope. Edited by John Thorn. Originally appearing in Sport , June Kerrane, Kevin. Lockwood, Lee. McCarthy, Eugene J. Extra innings presented a problem, however. Todd Cruz and Rich Dauer, the starting third baseman and second baseman respectively, were out of the game.
Catcher Joe Nolan, for whom Ayala had pinch-hit, had himself pinch-hit for starting catcher Rick Dempsey in the seventh, and Altobelli was now without either of his backstops. Martinez had only a fair move to first, but Bonnell took such a huge lead that he was easily picked off, although the out was officially recorded as a caught stealing since Bonnell continued to second, stopped and was tagged out by first baseman Eddie Murray. Martinez walked the speedy Collins, who was as anxious to run as had been Bonnell.
He was just as quickly picked off. Willie Upshaw then hit a bouncer behind second that Lowenstein fielded, but on which he could make no throw. Upshaw had barely taken his lead when Martinez picked him off first. The fans were cheering wildly, but the Orioles were still down a run. The craziness, however, had just begun. Cal Ripken , who would be the Most Valuable Player that year, led off with his 18th homer—on his 23rd birthday—to tie the score off McLaughlin, who then walked Eddie Murray.
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Second baseman Lowenstein grounded to first, moving Murray to second and Bobby Cox ordered an intentional pass to John Shelby, then brought in Randy Moffitt to face Roenicke. Third baseman Roenicke struck out, bringing catcher Lenn Sakata to the plate.
As befitting the night, Sakata launched a three-run, game-winning home run for a Baltimore victory. The victory proved to be the beginning of an eight-game winning streak that propelled the Orioles to the division crown and ultimately the World Championship. Milwaukee maintained its half-game lead over the Orioles with a , inning victory over California that night, but Tippy Martinez was again the victor on Thursday evening against Toronto when Baltimore scored two in the bottom of the tenth to win Those pick-offs explain how Martinez retired none of the batters he faced yet got credit for one inning pitched and the win.