“He was a terrific baseball guy”: former Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Clyde King remembered Fidel Castro that way. It was against a Fidel team that he and the Dodgers competed well before and slightly after Cuba’s Castro-led revolution in 1959. Under Fidel, baseball was nurtured as the country’s seemingly most popular pastime; it was played at least semi-professionally in several leagues throughout the island-nation that has refused to play ball with Team USA for nearly 60 years. At ballparks across the still-proud Communist country, admission is either free or accessible at token cost. “SPORTS IS A RIGHT,” say signs near outfield scoreboards. Sandlot games are evident, too. In a Havana playground some years ago, we saw teenagers engaged in a lively stickball game, one that could have been played here, except for one variation: batters had to walk the bases, not run them, when advancing on a ball in play.
Cuba was taken out of play economically when we Yanquis imposed a trade embargo on the island after Castro chased dictator Fulgencio Batista in ’59. Since then there has been no hiding the hardship resulting from the many minimal salary levels set by the government that keep natives struggling unless their services involve tourists; struggles that also have them experiencing food markets and clothing shops sparsely stocked, the best\ home-grown edibles exported. Still, ever-defiant Cuba managed to develop superior medical and educational systems; and with economic equality the rule, everyone living on low incomes benefit at key levels. (We are over-educated,” said urban planner Mario Coyola, about the disappearance of appropriate jobs for the annually large crops of college graduates.”)
The New York Times, no friend of Cuba’s through the Castro years (or of any Latin American country resistant to Yanqui control) Sunday published this grudging tribute to Fidel: “Fidel Castro’s impact on Latin America (looks to) last indefinitely. The power of his personality remains inescapable.”
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Some of the prominent Cuban expatriates playing in the MLB now: Jose Abreu, White Sox; Yoenis Cespedes. Mets free agent; Aroldis Chapman, Cubs FA; Jose Iglesias, Tigers; Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays; Yasiel Puig, Dodgers;
(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)
(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)