Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Old photo launches interest in Cuban baseball

Many years ago while looking through a box of old family photographs, I came across a black-and-white image of my father (left) from the late 1940s.

In it, he couldn't have been much more than 10 or 11 years old, and I felt as if I could have been looking at a picture of myself at that age were it not for the clothes and the photo's lack of color.

The baseball cap with the serifed "A" on the dome that sat on my father’s head was that of the Almendares baseball club, the professional winter-league team he rooted for as a child in pre-Castro Cuba.

My father would tell me stories of following players like Monte Irvin and Chuck Connors, Agapito Mayor and Max Lanier, Tommy Lasorda and Roberto Oritz.

He would tell me how his uncle, Raúl -- one of my grandfather Rene's 10 siblings -- would take him to El Gran Stadium of Havana to watch games, no easy task considering Raul's disability.

As a young man, Raúl lost both legs below the knees when they were run over by a train as he slept -- passed out after a night on the town -- on a set of tracks.

After the accident, Raúl had to use an elaborate wheelchair (left) -- with handles above the armrests connected to the wheels with what looked like bicycle chains -- to get around. Later he "walked" on his knees using foam pads (right).

Discovering these and other old photos of my father and our family in Cuba launched my ongoing interest in researching the history of baseball on the island of my birth, as well as my family history.

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