Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

The Dominican’s favorite son

By Jeff Idelson

Juan Marichal is revered in his homeland, more so than ever. He hasn’t thrown a pitch since 1975, but everywhere he goes on the island that adores baseball, the first Dominican Hall of Famer is respected and praised.

As much as the Dominican Dandy enjoys and deserves the adulation he is afforded for his stellar baseball career, even more so, he is proud. En Espanol, it is called “orgulloso.” He is proud to be a husband, father, grandfather and even a great grandfather now. Orgulloso of his friendships, career and country. He’s proud of his farming skills, which he learned from his parents. Juan Marichal is as proud a person as you will meet. He exudes happiness and confidence. He is so orgulloso.

On Tuesday, as Juan, his wife Alma and I dined on a traditional Dominican seafood lunch at Pepe Diaz in Santo Domingo, he could not stop talking about how his 49-year marriage to Alma, their six children, 13 grandchildren and his three-year old great granddaughter, Kirabella. He’s so proud of them all. Very proud of who they are and what they’ve all accomplished.

“I met Alma when she was 16. She was my first love.” To which she added, “We just went on a cruise. All 33 of us. What a thrill. I hope to do it every year. I love to be with my family.”

Juan joined the Air Force in 1956 at age 19 and moved from Laguna Verde, a small town two hours west of the Dominican capital, to Santo Domingo. Pitching for Trujillo’s Air Force team, he played against Matty Alou and his town team in El Cami. They instantly become the best of friends. Juan would hang out at the home of the three Alou brothers – Matty, Felipe and Jesus. The young lady who lived across the street quickly became the apple of Juan’s eye. Alma would soon become his wife at age 16. They have never looked back.

Matty, who passed away earlier this year, and Juan, were so close that Juan may as well have been the fourth Alou brother.

“He was my compadre from the start. I am proud of our friendship,” said Marichal. “I baptized Matty’s daughter as he did my daughter, Elsie; but even before that, we were compadres.”

They roomed together with the Giants and stayed friends until the day Matty died on Nov. 3.

“Matty was in a coma, but when I came to see him, he squeezed my hand four times,” Marichal said. “The next day my compadre even said my name.”

Tuesday night, we went to one of the final Dominican Winter League games of the season, with the Tigres del Licey playing host to the Aguilas Cibaenas. As we walked into the stadium, many fans, young and old, men and women, saluted their Dominican hero.

We watched the game from a box and the visits to see Juan were endless. Ozzie Virgil, the first Dominican player to appear in the major leagues, stopped by. Pedro Martinez’ sister, Elvera, who works for Licey, also came by. It seemed that half of Santo Domingo was at the game and they all simply wanted to shake the hand or pose for a photograph with the great Juan Marichal.

Juan told me of pitching in the Aguila’ Stadium in 1957 and 1958 for manager Salty Parker, who was in the Giants system. He was very proud of going 8-3 in 1958.

The game itself was one-sided with Fausto Carmona and Aguilas trouncing Ubaldo Jimenez and Licey, 6-1. The outcome was irrelevant as both teams will make the round-robin tournament that starts in a few weeks before the Caribbean Series.

As we left the ballpark I thought about how proud I was…orgulloso….to have been able to spend a day with one of the all-time greats on his home turf. There’s no greater man than Juan Marichal. No one more proud, so orgulloso.

Jeff Idelson is the President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Puerto Rico memories

By Brad Horn

Adios Borinquen!

There’s a colloquialism here in Ponce that speaks to the bravado of this southern coast historic town in Puerto Rico…”Ponce es Ponce.”

Indeed on Monday night, “Ponce is Ponce” was on full display at a local gymnasium used mostly for volleyball, named for a great basketball player from Ponce, Juan “Pachin” Vicens.

The people of Ponce turned out in droves to see the Hall of Fame plaques and were entertained by a rousing program, featuring mayor Maria Melendez Altieri’s infectious enthusiasm in presenting proclamations to Vera Clemente, Tony Perez and Roberto Alomar. The mayor also expressed her deepest thanks to the Hall of Fame and presented us gifts to show her appreciation.

Born in Ponce and raised in nearby Salinas, Robbie was the star of the evening, returning to his birthplace in the year of his Hall of Fame induction to boisterous applause. Father Sandy Sr. was also in attendance, as was Luis Clemente, Pituka Perez (Tony’s wife) and Ponce native and former Yankees reliever Luis Arroyo, who, along with Vic Power, became the first Puerto Ricans selected for an All-Star Game in 1955.

Smiles were abundant, as both Robbie and Tony spoke passionately of their appreciation for the people of Ponce. Alomar spoke in praise of how much it means to be a native son of Ponce, while Perez talked of the memories he’s shared over the years in this community, including watching winter league games here, when his son Eduardo, managed the Ponce club.

One of the single best moments of the entire trip served as the final touch to the plaque tour. Erik Strohl, our senior director for exhibitions and collections, told Sandy Sr. that he should have the honor of placing his son’s plaque in its case for the long journey home. Known by his given name here on the island, Santos was aglow as he held Robbie’s plaque, beaming with joy only a father could understand. Kudos to Erik for providing Sandy a memory of a lifetime.

As the plaques were packed securely by Erik and Evan Chase, our security director, the expression on the faces of our hosts for the last four days was simply priceless. Proud, joyous, exuberant, thankful and honored were the words said, but not uttered, in the universal language of visual emotion. No words were needed to understand what this journey was all about.

Moments later, Jeff, Erik, Evan and I were on board our Department of Sports and Recreation van, bound for the 110-mile journey back to the north end of the island. A police escort the entire way from Ponce to San Juan spoke volumes about the importance of this outreach to the commonwealth.

There’s a shared emotion many of us have in Cooperstown on the Monday afternoon following induction weekend every year. We are always happy that we have reached the end, knowing that we have done our absolute best to deliver lifetime memories to so many people for celebration unlike any other in baseball. Yet, we have a sadness that the journey has ended far too soon.

As the sun rose this morning while we taxied on the runway at Luis Munoz Airport in San Juan bound for Charlotte and then Albany and Cooperstown, I looked out my window and was overcome with emotion. I was reminded of that post-Induction feeling we have at the end of July in Cooperstown. For the last four days on this island, we did what we as an organization does best – made the dreams of others come true. And for the first time ever, we did so with the great fans of Puerto Rico.

There’s a line spoken by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that motivates me everyday that I have the high honor to represent the Hall of Fame: “We are the music makers and the dreamers of the dreams.”

Understanding that baseball has the power to connect cultures, families and memories unlike anything else has never appeared more genuine than what transpired over the last four days. The people of Puerto Rico were so honored and moved by this celebration that is impossible not to be realize that for so many we encountered, this was truly a dream come true that we were able to facilitate.

“From Puerto Rico to Cooperstown. From Cooperstown to Puerto Rico.”
(in Spanish: “De Borinquen a Cooperstown. De Cooperstown a Borinquen.”)

It served as the title for our journey – in English and Spanish – and as we return home, it is crystal clear the journey doesn’t end, and it does not have boundaries created by language. Rather, it continues a cycle of baseball history celebrated for nearly a century in the universal appreciation for the game and its heroes.

We are so honored and thankful for your kindness and hospitality, to everyone we encountered and all of those who shared a memory by viewing these treasures and baseball heroes.

Gracias Puerto Rico!

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

All about family in Puerto Rico

By Brad Horn

The morning visit to Guayama, Puerto Rico, on Sunday carried a similar theme for the visit of the four Hall of Fame plaques and the individuals so honored: Family. Or in this case, familia.

Scheduled as a visit to celebrate the hometown and birthplace of Roberto Alomar’s mother, Guayama was the second stop of this four-city tour, with the plaques on display at the Guayama Convention Center.

Droves of local residents turned out to salute their baseball heroes. During a one-hour presentation, the mayor of Guayama, Glorimari Jaime Rodriguez, presented special proclamations for each of the three living Hall of Fame members and to Vera and Luis Clemente, representing the legacy of Roberto.

Alomar told the crowd, “This is a day that I will never forget. For the Hall of Fame family to share in this special place for me and my family is a great honor.”

Tony Perez and his wife, Pituka, shared in the excitement, as did Orlando Cepeda, who talked of his father, Perucho, playing in Guayama in his baseball career.

A special appearance before the program began by former major leaguer Jose “Cheo” Cruz was a welcome addition to the Hall of Fame lineup.

Mayor Rodriguez led an inspired program that featured comments from the head of Guayama’s youth baseball program.

Rafael Serrano, the director of Museo Deporte in Guaynabo, shared a bit of history with the audience, describing how in 1938, when professional baseball was born in Puerto Rico, it was Guayama who was the best in the game, with Perucho Cepeda and Satchel Paige leading the way.

It was a morning for familia in so many ways.

Between cities on Day 3, the Hall of Famers and traveling party stopped in a Ladi’s Place on the waterfront in Salinas. Facing the Caribbean Sea and at the end of a seemingly quiet neighborhood, Ladi’s was the place to be on a Sunday afternoon, as we were hosted as guests of Roberto Alomar. Robbie’s childhood friend from “el barrio” in Salinas, Juan M. Gonzalez is proprietor of Ladi’s and he orchestrated an epic lunch for our traveling party.

Robbie used to play baseball and basketball right around the corner from here, and today they are playing “host” to this great group. Among the most popular dishes enjoyed were Mofongo Mariscada – a sampling of lobster, shrimp, octopus and conch. We met several members of Robbie’s family and enjoyed Caribbean music. Thank you – muchas gracias – to Juan and all of the great folks at Ladi’s Place for hosting us.

Once in Salinas, the plaques were put on display at the Olympic Training facility, where a Sunday afternoon turned into Sunday night.

The afternoon and evening portion of the southern region visit in Puerto Rico featured a stop and tour of the Olympic Training Complex in Salinas. This place has it all, including a great museum dedicated to Puerto Rico’s rich Olympic sports history.

While the plaques were on display, three members of the Alomar baseball playing family were on hand. The guest of honor, Roberto, was joined by his father, Sandy Sr., and his uncle, Rafael, a great Puerto Rican ballplayer.

In fact, Rafael collected the first hit in the history of Puerto Rico’s jewel baseball field, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in October 1962.

Robbie was greeted by fans of all ages and backgrounds, many who attended elementary and high school with him.

One fan even had an enlarged team photo of Robbie’s Salinas Little League team when he was 9 years old, with a cheery Alomar pictured in the center of the team photo, clearly representing his baseball acumen, even at an early age.

When the night concluded, the caravan moved to Ponce, where the four-day tour comes to an end Monday.

Sunday will always be one remembered for family, appreciation, and the impact Roberto Alomar has had throughout his life here on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Perez at home in Puerto Rico

By Brad Horn

A very special surprise awaited Tony Perez on Friday night during the opening ceremonies of the Puerto Rico plaque tour at the Museo del Deporte de Puerto Rico in Guaynabo.

Joined by fellow Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and Orlando Cepeda, along with Vera Clemente, the widow of Roberto Clemente, Perez was soaking in an evening of great baseball memories for Museum supporters and the unveiling of the Hall of Fame plaques on loan from Cooperstown, N.Y., for four days here in the baseball-rich island commonwealth when the surprise announcement came.

With both of his sons – Eduardo, the former major leaguer, and Victor, an actor presently living in London – in attendance, Perez received an unexpected recognition during the ceremony, as Henry Neumann, Secretary of the Department of Sports and Recreation for Puerto Rico, brought a special declaration from Governor Luis Fortuno.

Neumann read the proclamation of Tony Perez as an official “native son” of Puerto Rico, recognizing him for his dedication to the commonwealth as a family and community member, and for his impressive baseball accolades achieved while representing the island.

“We thank Tony for all that his adopted Puerto Rican man has done for Puerto Rican sports, for his native homeland, and for his children’s homeland,” said Neumann.

For Perez, who immigrated to Puerto Rico from Cuba at age 16, the honor was beyond emotional.

“It is not too easy to talk today,” said Perez to the audience of dignitaries and Museum supporters. “Since I have lived here, I feel like a Puerto Rican. I was welcomed with open arms when I got here. My wife (Pituka) has been welcomed here, my children were born here. My friends live here. This is my home.”

Following the ceremony, the plaques were unveiled and on Saturday morning, visitors began filing into the Museo del Deporte to see the plaques of their Puerto Rican heroes – Perez included – on display from Cooperstown.

Long-considered a Puerto Rican at heart, Tony Perez celebrated Friday night with the formal recognition from his adopted homeland as one of their own.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A Night of Baseball before Hitting the Road

By Brad Horn

Throughout the day on Saturday, a steady stream of visitors from around the island made their way to Guaynabo to see the Hall of Fame plaques of the four Puerto Rican Hall of Fame legends.

At the Museo de Deporte del Puerto Rico, thousands filed through all day, just waiting to catch a glimpse of the Cooperstown representations of their island heroes.

One Museo visitor, Hector from nearby Bayamon, came to see Orlando Cepeda’s plaque. Hector loves the Yankees and has long-followed another Puerto Rican baseball hero, Bernie Williams.

Following the public display at the Museo on Saturday night, the Hall of Fame team was treated to a night at the ballpark, as the Gigantes de Carolina hosted the Indios de Mayaguez in Puerto Rican Winter League action at Roberto Clemente Stadium.

The evening was arranged by Puerto Rican baseball historian and author Jorge Colon Delgado. A great friend to the Hall of Fame, Jorge has been one of the several islanders who made this experience seamless for us in Cooperstown.

Colon, one of the foremost historians on baseball in Puerto Rico and the statistician of the Puerto Rican Winter Leagues, has his fingers on the pulse of baseball on the island.

On Saturday night, he made our evening a very memorable experience, providing an inside look at baseball in the Caribbean leagues.

Upon arrival at the beautiful – and I mean truly beautiful – Roberto Clemente Stadium, a 12,000-seat treasure for the city of Carolina and the people of Puerto Rico, we headed right to the home clubhouse to see manager Edwin Rodriguez, who guided the Florida Marlins for the first half of the 2011 season.

Edwin, and his coaching staff of major league veterans, including Orlando Merced, Tome Cruz and others, were putting the final touches on their pre-game plan against Mayaguez, but took out time to share stories and pass along the plaque postcards of the four Puerto Rican Hall of Famers to their team.

Moments later, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson was introduced and whisked to the mound to deliver the ceremonial first pitch. This was a very important moment to the people of Puerto Rico, as it marked the first time a representative from Cooperstown has thrown out a first pitch. As expected, without any preparation, Jeff displayed extreme coolness and confidence in delivering a strike to Carolina catcher Rene Rivera, who appeared in 27 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2011.

Both rosters were highlighted with current and former major league stars, ranging from Carolina’s Pedro Valdes, who is someone of a local icon in Carolina by virtue of playing for the same Carolina club for many years in a career that included stints in Texas and Seattle, to Brendan Harris, Hiram Boccachica, Alex Cintron and Jesus Feliciano, among others.

During the game, we were showered with kindness from the Giagantes staff, sampling the local fare including empanadillas, carne frittas and the Puerto Rican version of chicken tacos.

We left Carolina with a full diet of local fare and flair, resting for two days of travels, starting Sunday morning, with the visits of the plaques to Guayama, Salinas and Ponce still on tap for the next 36 hours.

We were so thankful to the kind people of Carolina for making our evening possible, especially to Hector, Guillermo, Angelica, Edwin and everyone we met. Thanks to Jorge and his ever-lasting kindness, the game provided the ultimate transition halfway through our journey.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball royalty in the Commonwealth

By Brad Horn

Here in Guaynabo, the opening ceremonies for the Puerto Rico plaque tour got under way on Friday night.

On stage, Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda and Robbie Alomar were joined by Vera Clemente in a festive reception at the Museum del Deporte de Puerto Rico.

Hall of Fame plaques of the three living Puerto Rican stars, along with the plaque of Roberto Clemente, are making their way around the island this weekend.

Other baseball dignitaries in attendance on Friday included Robbie’s father, Sandy, and Tony’s son, Eduardo, both former major league stars, along with former big league pitcher Ed Figueroa. Former wrestler Alvin Lopez, aka Barabas, was also in attendance.

Students from the Guaynabo School for the Arts also performed traditional Puerto Rican musical entertainment.

The festivities continue with the public viewing of the plaques today here at the Museo.

On Sunday, the plaques will visit Guyama in the morning and Salinas in the afternoon. The tour concludes Monday in Ponce.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A trip to the Island

By Erik Strohl

On Friday morning, Hall of Fame director of security Evan Chase and I were picked up at our hotel and driven to the Sports Museum of Puerto Rico in Guaynabo by local baseball historian extraordinaire Jorge Colon Delgado. Jorge also met us at the airport on arrival Thursday night, and he has been exuding excitement about our visit from the first minute.

Bringing the Hall of Fame plaques of Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Tony Perez to Puerto Rico has everyone connected to the Museum feeling giddy. They have been working hard for months in anticipation of our visit. It is obvious that much time has been spent in preparation for this event.

When we arrived at the Museum shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, we were greeted by Rafi Serrano and a number of his staff who were working hard in final preparation for this evening’s extravaganza. The purpose of our morning’s visit was to supervise the installation of the four plaques.

It is obvious much care has been taken in order for the presentation of the plaques to look topnotch. The Museum constructed four sided wooden pillars about seven feet high. One side contains the plaque, while the opposite side will house a TV showing highlights from each player. The other two sides contain photos from each player’s career from both their time in Puerto Rico as well as the major leagues. One of these pillars has been built for each of the four Hall of Famers.

Several employees jumped right in as the sound of power tools and the sight of screwdrivers became immediately prevalent. The employees all gathered around in excitement as each of the plaques was installed in succession. Everyone was taking photos and each staff member was pitching in. It was a fun moment and obvious to us that just participating in this pre-event was a special moment for each one of our hosts. The installation took about 15 minutes or so for each plaque, finishing up the job in a little over an hour.

Tonight will be the main event and we are all very excited. It is hopeful that the Governor of Puerto Rico will be able to attend, as well as many other local mayors and other dignitaries. And of course Alomar, Cepeda, and Perez will be present, along with Vera Clemente and other members of the Clemente family. It is sure to be a fun-filled evening and an unbridled celebration of Puerto Rican baseball.

The people here are so passionate about the game. Just hearing them talk about their heroes and the anticipation for this evening is enough to make any baseball fan feel humbled, including members of the Hall of Fame staff like myself. It is a reminder what a powerful hold baseball has on many people of various localities around the world. We have been here less than 24 hours and we already feel so very special because of the unbelievable hospitality we have received.

I can’t wait for tonight. It is sure to be one special evening filled with smiles, laughter, and perhaps even a few tears. It is wonderful to see how much this game and its history mean to the people of Puerto Rico.

Erik Strohl is the senior director of exhibitions and collections for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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