“…This is the triumph of free baseball over slave baseball …” – Fidel Castro
By ALIET ARZOLA LIMA
That’s why January 14, 1962 is so warmly recalled, being the date the National Series was launched.
On that date it will be 50 years since Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro hit the first pitch of revolutionary baseball in the former Cerro Stadium, crammed with people to see the 115 players who would begin the beautiful story that continues today.
For the books, Azucareros defeated Orientales 6-0 and Occidentales won their game against La Habana 3-1, accompanied by the familiar faces of professional umpires Amado Maestri and Rafael Paz.
It wasn’t easy to leave baseball for profit behind. All around the country there were passionate fans of teams from Havana, Almendares, Marianao and Cienfuegos, which actually played after the triumph of the Revolution, during the winter of 1960-1961.
All the more reason to emphasize the great challenge taken on by Pedro Chávez, Urbano González, Fidel Linares, Raúl “Guagua” López, Miguel Cuevas, Antonio “Ñico” Jiménez, Jorge Trigoura, Alfredo Street, Modesto Verdura, Manuel Alarcón, Antonio Rubio, Edwin Walters, Aquino Abreu, Tomás Soto and many others who would later be recognized as legends of Cuba’s national sport.
With limitless love and commitment on the field, they won the affection and respect of fans who could perceive the magic of the Series. They filled the stadiums, making their own the show which engendered great hopes in each and every Cuban.
THE GENESIS OF REVOLUTIONARY BASEBALL
“Fidel instilled in us a passion for the sport” – Andrés Telemaco
By JORGE LUIS MERENCIO CAUTÍN (Photo and text by author)
GUANTÁNAMO (January 12, 2012)— NOT EVEN his inclusion on the Cuban national team to play in the 1969 World Championship in Santo Domingo left a greater mark on Andrés Pilotaje Telemaco than January 14, 1962, the day Fidel inaugurated the first Cuban National Series in what is now the Latinoamericano Stadium, and put an end to baseball for profit in the country.
“That event was the biggest thing that happened to me as an athlete and as a person. Imagine, I came from the neighbourhood get-togethers, the local clubs like Los Vaqueros, being next to Fidel and hearing the reasons for the establishment of amateur baseball, his advice and even seeing him make a hit on the first pitch,” recalls the man, who was the only player from the province of
Guantánamo in the league, that first year
“More than a few people,” Telemaco recalled, “thought that without professional status, Cuban baseball would be lost. Fidel showed us the contrary, and along with the people, made amateur sports one of the most important conquests of the Revolution. He had confidence in us and we didn’t disappoint him, as Cuban baseball’s victories internationally demonstrate.”
“There were many potential players wanting to join the team from Oriente province, so we went through a rigorous selection process, including an interview,” he said and clarified that during the first Series, he played third base, not second, for which he later became so widely known.
“Pedro ‘Natilla’ Jiménez, the manager, asked me to play third, since it was a position where we were a bit weak. In the local teams I had usually played shortstop and pitched, too. Players were more versatile back then, less specialized in one position.”
El Tele (as many still affectionately call him) is known for his unique pivoting style at second base. “I played with my glove good and open, which made it easier to avoid holding onto the ball for long and gain seconds at second base for double plays. I would let the ball go with a twist of my wrist, at waist height and thus prevent the runner coming from first from sliding into me and disrupting the double play. Doing it meant risking being hit by the ball,” the 13-season veteran explained. During the latter years of his career, he suffered from two injuries, one to a tendon in his thigh that required 40 stitches.
Andrés Pilotaje Telemaco created along with Agustín Arias one of the best combinations in Revolutionary baseball at second base. He describes their rapport this way, “With us, the bases were never loaded because the double play or the out at home was always guaranteed, thanks to the power of our arms and our sure hands fielding.”
Fast, six feet tall, elegant in his uniform and shiny spikes, Andrés Telemaco affirms that he went out onto the field to show his love for the team, for a good show. “I enjoyed every game. This way of playing got a lot of people to the stadiums to see me, which motivated me to train, to do things better. It was Fidel who instilled a passion for the sport in us, and patriotism as well.”