Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fascinating article about Cuban baseball players

Fascinating article by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame. Here's a sample:

That’s how Gus Dominguez had become a sports agent. He took an interest in these Cubans when no one else did, and so he became, by default, their guy. The players in Cuba learned of Arocha’s success—and saw the Cuban government’s decision not to punish his family—and thought, If he can do it, I can, too. In 1993, two years after Arocha defected, the Cuban national “B” team flew to Buffalo, New York, for the World University Games. Eddie Oropesa, a 21-year-old pitcher on his first trip abroad, sneaked out of the college dorm in which he was housed, but couldn’t find the cousin who was supposed to be waiting. Terrified, he wound up wandering around some graveyard in the dark. He ran back to his room and stared at the ceiling. The next morning, as the team warmed up, Oropesa handed his spikes to his good friend shortstop Rey Ordoñez, then dashed for the fence behind home plate. It was at least 12 feet high, but he went up and over in his stocking feet. “I didn’t know where my cousin was,” Oropesa recalls. “I just started climbing the fence. I heard Rey shouting, ‘Oropesa! Oropesa! Oropesa’s gone crazy!’ But I didn’t look back. When I hit the ground I just started running.” Newly liberated, he heard Gus Dominguez was the man to see. “I wanted to leave not because I thought I could play baseball,” says Oropesa, “but because I didn’t want my son to go through the experience that I had. And the only way for him to get out was for me to get out first.” (Dominguez helped Oropesa extract his wife and son from Cuba three years later.)

Here's another:
That night a stuffy, windowless van drove him from his apartment outside Havana to a beach in Matanzas, a few hours away, picking up along the way 21 other people who would ride out on the same boat. Among these were the four other baseball players: Francisley Bueno, Allen Guevara, Yoankis Turino, and Osmany Masso. The motorboat was just big enough to hold them, but the ballplayers were still treated as the first-class passengers. Racing from the shore in the dark, they nearly collided with what they feared was a Cuban police boat. “The driver said some people would have to jump out into the water, to slow the police boat down,” says Osbek. “They would have to stop and pick up the people. They were trying to decide who would jump out, and the driver said the baseball players had to stay in the boat, because we were the most valuable. Then everyone on the boat started swearing they were baseball players, so they wouldn’t have to jump out.”

Read the whole thing.

If you haven't read Moneyball, I highly recommend it, even if, like me, you find baseball boring. There's some very cheap used copies at Amazon.