For my father, The American, Manin,
Phosphorus, Ernesto Trucutú,
Roberto Vargas, Alfredo Fumero
and so many others who loved the small stadium.
Memorable verses by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa swear: “The Tagus is more beautiful than the river that runs through my village. / But the Tagus is no more beautiful than the river that runs through my village / because the Tagus is not the river that runs through my village.” Everyone, in the absence of a large river, seems to have a small one, which can be loved as much or more than any other river in the world, no matter how flowing and celebrated.
I don’t exactly have a river to love until delirium. I have a baseball stadium. Well, I say a stadium, a baseball land at the foot of some almond trees, that of a little town called Ceiba del Agua. Rather, I had, because now he’s a dead land, unfortunately. A little earth that gradually blurred in the middle of a silent landscape; a little earth where you no longer know where the box, the home plate, the mound tablite are; a little land where cows, goats, horses graze freshly on the old grass (now leafy grass), on which so many players ran, batted, fielded, cheated, suffered… under the excited cry that plunged the “bleachers” of rustic stone into a real asylum.
It hurts to the bone so much abandonment, so much history buried in the background of indifference. Someone once told me, “If more important personalities and events are in total memory, what can you expect from your stadium?” He’s right. I have just read that one of the greatest photographers in Cuba, the famous Chinolope, author, among others, of the famous images of Lezama next to Cortázar, and stellar reporter of the magazines Times, Life and Paris Match is in the most painful hardship and no longer expects neither nominations for the National Prize for Plastic Arts, nor a miracle that brings it back to the light and the seat that it deserves so much. It’s just a case. I’m not going to quote any others. I don’t mean for this article to have a hundred pages of regret.
In the land of Ceiba del Agua I saw what I now tell and count those who were then far from born: a platoon who played in the National Series, no matter how mediocre, when he came to play this kind of terrenitos proved why he was ten times superior to those who did not reach the national classic. In this land I saw Bernardo Moré, with a stretch line of fright, liquidate by the way of the strikes to seventeen opponents and endure only three hits (very badly hit, by the way). Bernardo himself, pitcher of the Industrialists, used to lose more games than win them in the National Series.
Years later, at another stadium in the municipality, I observed in full warm-up a left-handed pitcher of the Cuba team. What a disappointment! Not even the catcher’s pet sounded with his pitches! As soon as the lawsuit began, the ninth municipal gave him battalions of all colors and by all the bands. And that was the stellar left-handed pitcher of the Cuba team! Oh my God! Bernardo Moré burned the mascot, struck out Mazzantini in the provincial ball and was not a pitcher of much alcurnia in the industrial teams of the mid-1970s.
In this land I saw Carlos Cepero, short stop of the Industrialists with serious problems at bat, mercilessly punishing how much local pitcher was put in front of him. It was the classic “out by rule” trochy in executioner once it abandoned the rigors of Latino, Captain San Luis, the Sandino… and other high-class stadiums.
And I saw Pedro the Burning Marquez, not outstanding first baseman in the Selective Series, throwing such a violent “plomazo” through the third base area, that the player of this position, evidently frightened at that ball that traveled towards him like a bazuka shot, only continued to lift one foot and let the ball cross freely under his spike. The jokes that would awaken that “leg collected on time” would well deserve to be in an anthology of Creole humor.
It’s just a few anecdotes I’ve narrated. But anecdotes that one enjoyed in the stage of his childhood and adolescence, where every Saturday and Sunday, the ninth of most unthinkable names came, sometimes from the Cuban capital, to beat the ninth place, composed of platoons of limited talent, but always willing to give themselves in body and soul to the greatest sporting passion of the Cuban people.
And in that little land I tried, without result, to become a platoon. The skirmish didn’t last long. I didn’t see the hard guy come through. Three strikes… and out. I would definitely not be a platoon, but a writer and journalist. And now, seeing what I’ve achieved in both professions, I resign myself to not being a 100-mile-per-hour pitcher or a fearsome fourth bat like Antonio Muñoz, Cheíto Rodríguez or Orestes Kindelán.
However, I never needed a position on the grass to intensely enjoy every game held in that land, to which two men already of mature age and today deceased, Malala and Macario, cared like the girl in their eyes so that she was always green and lozano and ready for baseball contest.
One day the sports authorities decided that the ground would be called Sergio Lara, the name of a reluctant and jovial mulatto popularly known as Maceo, whom, already in the middle of old age, with an almost off-hook swing, I saw the ball out of line by the left garden band. A name like that deserved a stadium that gradually turned off its fervor. What he didn’t deserve was the absolute desidia that came to “reward” him afterwards.
Pessoa, among so many massive rivers, never saw one better than the simple river of his people; I never found, among so many renowned stadiums, a better stadium than the humble ball earth of Ceiba del Agua. Ω