August 28, 2011
The Cuban Cultural Center of New York (CCCNY) [El Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York] presented its 10th Congress on Saturday at the McNally Auditorium of Fordham University’s Law School. The all-day event, from 8 AM until 8 PM, was held at an appropriate site as Esteban Bellán, the acknowledged “Father of Cuban Baseball’, graduated from the Rose Hill campus of St. John’s College, now Fordham University in 1868.
In the following year, the native of Havana, Cuba joined the Troy Haymakers, making him the first Cuban player in professional baseball in the United States. After six seasons in the U.S., he returned to Cuba, where he had a major influence upon the growth of the sport in his native land. Rafael Pi Román, of Channel 13, the program’s moderator, officially dedicated the conference to Bellán, who died in 1932, moments after the proceedings began.
Nine hours later, another legendary Cuban ballplayer was honored. Fortunately, 88 year old Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, was present to hear the accolades. After Miñoso modestly responded to a standing ovation that began upon his entrance into the auditorium, he was presented with an award for his outstanding career by Iraida Iturralde, the vice president of the CCCNY.
The octogenarian was gracious in his appreciation for the recognition and spoke of his pride in being a player and a Cuban. Miñoso reminisced about his lengthy career and his time in New York as a member of the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues.
Before beginning his sterling career in the majors, Miñoso played with the Cubans at the Dyckman Oval, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. During those years, 1945-9, he lived on Lennox Ave. From 1949-1964, Miñoso displayed his skills on the major league level. He batted .298, drove in 1,023 runs, produced 1,983 hits, scored 1,136 runs and thrilled the fans who watched him with his outstanding defensive skills as well. The star outfielder was awarded three Gold Gloves and was a six-time All-Star.
Miñoso played in the Cuban Winter League during the off-season during his sojourn in the U.S. He also was a star in the Mexican League (1965-73) after his career in the majors concluded. He was elected to the baseball hall of Fame in Cuba and Mexico. Many who saw him play in the U.S. believe he was worthy of election to the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown as well.
Miñoso briefly appeared twice more as a major league player, in 1976 and 1980, to tie Nick Altrock as the only two men to play five decades in the majors. He again appeared on the playing field in 1993 and 2003, for the St. Paul Saints in the Independent League, making him the only man to play during seven decades in professional baseball.
The extremely gracious and seemingly tireless former player signed autographs, posed for photos and answered questions from the guests at the conference long after his presentation ended.
August 28, 2011
New York—Although it is impossible to review nearly 150 years of history in a single day, the nine hours of the conference between the honoring of Esteban Bellán at 9 AM and the tribute to Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso at 7 PM at Saturday’s X Congress of the Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus made a sincere effort to comprehensively view Cuban baseball history.
Part I-Morning program
The keynote address delivered by Roberto González-Echavarría was entitled “The Origins of Baseball in Cuba: A Historical Context”. The distinguished professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature at Yale University traced the game from the 1860’s and spoke of Bellán’s importance in its development within Cuba.
The professor told of baseball’s growing popularity in Cuba in the late 19th century based upon its connection to the modernistic United States as opposed to the sport of bull fighting that many in Cuba considered a symbol of the backwardness of the mother country, Spain.
He also explained that baseball was intricately tied to other forms of culture in Cuba. Unlike baseball in the U.S., literature recitals and dance programs followed directly after ball games concluded. He spoke of a shortstop on the Almendares club who was a minor novelist and then quipped, “How many novels has Jeter written?” The literature scholar described baseball as a “mock war in which heroics are performed” and as being vastly “different than back and forth sports such as football, soccer and lacrosse.”
Professor González-Echaverría, who wrote an award winning volume on the history of baseball in Cuba in 2002, summarized major events in the sport’s history far beyond its beginnings in his discourse. He concluded his address on baseball within his homeland by discussing the changes in the sport made by Fidel Castro, “Castro revolutionized Cuban sports to their detriment. Cuban baseball endures. It runs deep in the Cuban’s soul. It came with the promise of democracy and, I believe, it will be there when democracy returns.”
The keynote address was followed by the morning panel at which five papers were presented detailing several diverse topics regarding Cuban baseball history. The moderator of the panel, César Brioso of USA Today, read a statement of greeting from Conrado Marrero. Marrero is presently hospitalized in Cuba with a broken hip suffered in a fall. The former pitcher is the oldest living former major leaguer at the age of 100. Marrero’s doctor emailed a message in which he said Marrero is lucid and is expected to be able to leave the hospital. The former pitcher, an idol in Cuba, sent his greetings to the conference and offered “his compatriots a fraternal embrace.”
The first panelist to speak, Manuel Márquez-Sterling, a professor emeritus at Plymouth State University, discussed the two conflicting schools of baseball offense in Cuban history. Scientific baseball or little ball was typified by Ty Cobb and the prodigious long ball by Babe Ruth. Both barnstormed in Cuba, but Ruth’s appearance in Cuba did not have the effect upon the game as it did in the U.S. He explained that Dick Sisler, a major leaguer in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, helped popularize the home run in Cuba. He explained the convergence of factors that led to the change in Cuban baseball strategy, “Political stability and economic prosperity grew the Cuban middle-class and lessened the resistance to smaller parks and home runs. Social, cultural, economic and political changes in Cuba together with Dick Sisler led to the baseball changes.”
Marino Martínez, a newspaper reporter from El Nuevo Herald in Miami spoke of the La Liga de la Uniόn Atlética (Cuban amateur baseball) that ran from 1914 through 1960. The speaker detailed a number of successful teams and star players of the various eras and locales within the nation. He, like all of the others who addressed the gathering, made ample and effective use of photos to bring the times and people of the past to life and create additional interest. Audio visual materials, including films were quite effective supplements to the spoken word at the conference.
The topic of amateur baseball in Cuba was brought to the present by Rogério Manzano of Univision, who explained the changes instituted by Castro, after assuming control of the Cuban government. He cited the Cuban National Team’s record in international competition during this era to exhibit the ups and downs. He believes amateur baseball is in a crisis situation today and that Raúl Castro, a more pragmatic leader than his brother may institute needed changes.
Gary Ashwell, a young baseball historian, used statistics displayed on the large sized-screen behind the speaker’s platform to help inform the audience of the marks achieved by Cuban players during the Negro leagues epoch. Interestingly, the first back team (1885) was called the Cuban Giants, although none of its members were Cuban. Ashwell highlighted the records of pitcher José Mendez and slugging outfielder Christóbal Torriente, both of whom excelled during their years in the Negro League.
Leslie Heaphy of Kent State University discussed a much neglected topic of Cuban women in baseball. She talked on the history of women’s baseball with emphasis on Cuban women who played in the AAGPBL (All American Girls Professional Baseball League) during the 1940’s and 1950’s. One of the women, Luisa Gallegos, was in the audience. Gallegos was a teenager when she and several of her countrywomen joined the league in 1948. She did not fear going to a new land to work as she was not alone. The youngster found the experience interesting and appeared pleased that people asked her to reminisce about that time in her life.
Part II-Afternoon program
After a delightful almuerzo, the afternoon session began with an interesting and entertaining documentary, “Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball and the United States”. The film, produced in 1999, focused on two nations in conflict, two economic and political systems and one sport loved in both lands, baseball. The film focused on the reaction on the island to the first visit of a major league team, the Baltimore Orioles, since the Castro era began. The many interviews with people on each side of the 90 mile shoreline showed the wide diversity of opinions and feelings. Many telling facts were given that produced greater understanding of Cuban baseball history and are worthy of further study. In the years 1911-1947, before the color barrier was broken, only 58 Cubans played in the majors, yet 223 played in the Negro Leagues during those same years. In 1991, Luis Arocha became the first baseball defector from Castro’s Cuba, but in the next decade, 40 baseball players defected from Cuba.
The speakers at the afternoon panel were all former big league players who were born in Cuba. Tony Pérez, the only living former player in the Baseball Hall of Fame born in Cuba was the first guest. The first baseman and the players that followed were interviewed by José Roig of Uniivision and also responded to questions from the audience. Pérez modestly gave credit to managers Dave Bristol and Sparky Anderson and to the pitching staff for the success of the Big Red Machine of which he was an important component. Despite belting 377 homers, Pérez said he never considered himself to be a home run hitter. When asked why there are so few Cubans in the HOF, he replied, “I think there’s a person sitting here who should be in [he pointed to Luis Tiant].”
Julio Bécquer, 79, was the next player to join the panel. Bécquer was one of the many Cubans signed by scout Joe Cambria for the Washington Senators in the 1950’s. He played in the American League from 1955-1963. He recalled the glory days of the Marianao club he played for in his native land as well as his experiences in the majors.
“Cookie” Rojas, born in 1939 in Havana, began his lengthy time in the majors in 1962. He has been successful as a player, coach, manager and currently as a broadcaster in a variety of venues in the bigs. In addition to very intelligently responding to perceptive questions from members of the audience, Rojas recounted his experiences as a member of the Havana Sugar kings in its final years of existence.
Jose Cardenal, the youngest of the former players present had a fine big league career from 1963-80. After his playing days ended, he coached for five teams. Cardenal was exceptionally good humored in his responses.
A big favorite of baseball fans everywhere, Lusi Tiant was interviewed by Grammy winning jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera. The second generation baseball great openly replied to questions on many of his experiences. When speaking about his visit to Cuba several years ago, Tiant broke down into tears after talking about his family.
The program ended with a festive reception held in the Fordham Law School Atrium. The entire long day’s proceedings were an educational treasure. The CCCNY certainly fulfilled its mission of being an “organization devoted to the preservation, advancement and dissemination of Cuban and Cuban-American culture with this superlative 12 hour conference.
August 26, 2011
There has been a great debate over the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts as a professional sport in New York. One of the arguments is that it is too violent still, despite the regulations put in by virtually every state athletic commission in the country. The fans and participants in the sport argue that MMA is action packed, filled with great positive messages and is less harmful than football. Millions train in one or more disciplines of the sport even in New York, and legalization is being held up by the uninformed few with a different agenda.
One way to make the sport more acceptable is to reach the masses, the casual sports fan, and Lionsgate Entertainment may just have helped that process with the upcoming film “Warrior.” Directed by Gavin O’Connor (“Miracle”), and starring Joel Egerton, Tom Hardy (“Inception”), Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison, the film takes viewers through the trials and tribulations of the Conlon family, who eventually use the sport and its values to overcome some of the great obstacles in their lives. One brother is a troubled Army vet, now living in Pittsburgh and looking to restart his life. Another is a Philadelphia schoolteacher beset by financial woes and trying to keep his family together. In the middle is their dad, an alcoholic former elite wrestling coach trying to piece together his life once again. it is through a sport they all had trained and participate in, MMA, that they eventually find, a common ground and a way to overcome the battles that they face in everyday life.
Now the film is probably more “Rocky” than “The Fighter,” but it also aspires to much higher goals. It is a metaphor for all the issues we have in society and the struggles everyone faces every day, battles with family, finances, friends, the economy. It is not bloody or gory, and the fight scenes, even for a casual observer of MMA, don’t glorify violence, they explain the sport and what it takes to be successful. It is the type of well planned, mainstream outreach that can swing those interested in the MMA decision in new York to the positive side. It is also a film that will appeal to a wider audience because of the story lines, especially a younger audoience who may like the mix of action and drama in a setting that is not slam bang shoot em up super-heroish. The story is very real, and reality is what many crave these days.
“Warrior” is a great example of a film that can aspire to a higher level and transcend sports. if it delivers as it could, it may be a big boost for MMA fans in New York, as well as for the careers of its very strong cast. A great piece for fight fans, or fans of a good story. Hopefully the New York politicians take the time to see it as well.
August 6, 2011
Bronx, NY—Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing is presenting its third boxing show in the Bronx this summer on Friday night, August 19, at the Paradise Theater. The 13th edition of the Punchin’ at the Paradise series will be returning to its home. The card is promoted by Star Boxing in collaboration with Golden Boy Promotions. The two feature bouts will be broadcast live on Sólo Boxeo Tecate.
Several undefeated, young prospects will be attempting to continue their win streaks and to impress the live crowd and television audience. The headline encounter is scheduled for 10 rounds in the lightweight division. Michael “The Artist” Preez of Newark (13-0-1, 7 KO’s) will be returning to the Paradise. He successfully fought at the iconic Bronx showplace in May 2010.
Perez, 21, turned pro three years ago after attaining the 2008 National Golden Gloves championship. He will face Fer7-2, 4 KO’s) Fernando Carcano (7-2, 4 KO’s) of Sonora, Mexico. The bout in the Bronx will only be Carcano’s second outside of Mexico.
In the co-feature attraction, Eddie Gomez will return to his place of birth for his first pro bout in the Bronx. The 18 year old welterweight (5-0, 4 KO’s), who now resides in Puerto Rico, will be fighting outside the “isla de encanto” for only the second time as a pro. His 21 year old opponent in the scheduled six round welterweight bout, Marcus Hall (53-1, 2 KO’s), comes from Rochester, New York.
Another unbeaten, young prospect, Michael (“The Nassau Nightmare”) Brooks (4-0, 1 KO) travels from his native long Island to face Jamell Tyson (2-2-1, 1 KO) in a six round lightweight bout.
Before the three unbeaten prospects reach the Paradise ring, Rich Neves of Long Island will make his pro debut. Three amateur bouts are scheduled to begin the evening’s event.
DeGuardia, the President and CEO of Star Boxing, commented upon the fulfillment of his desire to bring top-notch boxing cards to the Bronx, “Our concept behind the series is to bring entertaining fights and cards right here to the Bronx. Not only have we been able to produce that with our two past shows this year (May and July), but the success of these shows enabled us to be able to put on what promises to be yet another exciting card at the Paradise live on TeleFutura’s “Sólo Boxeo Tecate.”
Tickets to the show can be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet, at the Paradise Theater box office (1-718-220-1015) or through Star Boxing (1-718-823-2000).