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A Tribute to Tony Oliva (Blog #3)

Curt DeBerg



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Hemingway wrote, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” After reading A Farewell to Arms, or For Whom the Bell Tolls, or The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway aficionados understand what he meant.

     The story you are reading is part fiction, but it may throw some light on Tony Oliva’s ordeal in coming to the United States as a young ballplayer. Oliva went on to become a star for the Minnesota Twins in the 1960s and early 1970s, and he is still revered in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, where he still lives, in a suburb just outside Minneapolis. He is eighty-three years old. On July 24, 2022, he was formally inducted into baseball’s shrine in Cooperstown, New York: The Baseball Hall of Fame. This story is a tribute to Tony O, as he is always called. He, like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, is old and humble. He wasn’t a fisherman. He was a ballplayer—a great ballplayer. Baseball fans know him as Tony, but his real name is likely Pedro Jr.


Ernest Hemingway was a baseball fan. When he was young, by most accounts, his favorite team was the Chicago White Sox. But he liked the Chicago Cubs, too.2 Of course, later, he followed Joe DiMaggio and the New York Yankees. In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago follows major league baseball, and even wonders “how the great DiMaggio would have liked the way I hit him [the shark] in the brain?”3

     We all need heroes. Other than my dad, Minnesota Twins baseball stars Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew were my heroes. They always showed grace under pressure, even when badly injured. They were courageous, and preferred to show their talent by action, not words. They were not superheroes, though; they had their faults, and I liked that. This made them human.

     I was attracted to Tony-O and Harmon for obvious reasons. Tony-O was the best pure combination hitter, for both power and singles, I ever saw play. He could spray the ball anywhere, even if the pitch was out of the strike zone. If he liked it, he hit it. Harmon could crush tremendous, rainbow home runs into the aqua-blue heaven of Metropolitan Stadium's upper deck, in left field.

     As a boy, I collected their baseball cards, read books and articles about them, and bought the Twins yearbook. I didn’t want to know certain things about them—I needed to know everything. Where did they live? What foods did they eat? Did they have any hobbies? Did they read great books? What were their families like? Did they have sons or daughters my age? How did they become so good at baseball? Did they have any advice for a ten-year-old from Rock Rapids, Iowa?

     I wasn’t just a fan. I was a baseball fanatic, in need of one or two more heroes. Kind of like Manolin needed Santiago. The (somewhat) fictional story you are about to read is a tribute to two men whose love for Cuba and baseball was beyond question: Ernest Hemingway and Tony Oliva.

(See the short story, Ernest Hemingway and Tony Oliva: How the Great Writer Helped the Great Ballplayer at http://curtdeberg.com or order it directly from Amazon!)

Hemingway and Oliva Picture for E-book cover.png


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