Maggie Alarcón

The unexpected curve

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Culture, History, Politics, Sports, US on May 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Major League Baseball is not my forte but I have been a fan since childhood thanks to my maternal grandmother and her intent on making sure I grew up as knowledgeable as possible about her favorite sport.

I was in New York then, so it was only logical that my “team” would be the Yankees. I have later learnt that “blue” is not exclusive to the Yanks, it is also the color of Cuba´s current “Yankee” equivalent, Havana´s Industriales team who like their predecessor Almendares, also wear blue.

During his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visit to Cuba last month, Andrea Mitchell of NBC was in Havana from where she graced the cities Cathedral with live shots for her daily television news show. Each live feed from Havana was produced with information on the Popes activities in Cuba and spiced with interesting aspects of today’s life on the Island and each aspect was accompanied by a healthy dose of US Cuba relations.

Andrea is a brilliant journalist who has a long standing relationship with the island and a woman of great savoir faire; she is also a baseball enthusiast who knows much about the sport, how important it is in Cuba and how entwined the United States and the Island are in it´s midst’s. It is because of this that I had the opportunity to meet a legend and I will forever be in her debt.

Cuba and the US are so close regarding baseball it could well be the greatest of all ironies. It is the national sport of the two historic enemies in the hemisphere. Granted, Cuba´s relationship to baseball stems from the beginning of the previous century when the island was nothing more than a neo-colony of the US, but in spite of this and of half a century of having to hear from detractors that this is something that separates us from the rest of Latin America, Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 didn’t dream change the fact that baseball knows no politics when it comes to passion. Eliminating the sport from revolutionary Cuba would have provoked a revolution within the Revolution. So, it´s here to stay.

That is not the irony. The irony is actually embodied in a petit man who reached the ripe age of 101 this April 25th.

Conrado (Connie) Marrero, formally of the Havana Almendares is alive and well living in Havana.  He has lost his eyesight over the years but not his spunk or love of the game. He is lucid and well and can still spend hours talking baseball.

Marrero was one of Cuba´s and the US´s best pitchers of the day. He pitched curve balls to Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He knew just how to pitch to Ted Williams who could see a ball coming a mile away.  In spite of his advanced years Marrero still recalls moments that for him are memories but for us they are an experience to cherish for a lifetime. As he recounted, “I was pitching a game against the Yankees and DiMaggio came up to bat. After a few really good pitches, some of my best, he hit one out of the park.”  Connie recalls “I went up to him after the game and said ¨Joe, you were really great today!´, and he responded, “Nah, Connie, I guess I was just having a good day.¨ and I said, ¨You crazy Joe?! ALL your days are great!” But when asked who he considers the all time best, Marrero didn’t skip a beat and responded, “They were all great! But the best of the best, in my opinion, was Babe Ruth.”

Marrero signed with the Washington Senators at the ripe age of 39 and given his 5 feet 7 inch 158Lbs frame, one can well understand why the then owner of the Senators, Clark Griffith, registered the unlikely “rookie” as being six years younger. He had his debut with the Washington Senators on April 21 of 1950 and took part in 118 games during five championships; he has been qualified as the oldest living former United States Major League player and he is a Cuban living in Cuba, today.

Conrado Marreros first MLB contract with the Washington Senators.

…therein lies the gist.

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