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A Tribute to Tony Oliva (Blog #4)


Curt DeBerg

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      In the summer of 1960, Hemingway was sixty years old and in failing health. He and his fourth wife, Mary, were forced to leave their bucolic estate southeast of Havana. For nearly twenty-two years, the Hemingways had made the Cuba their home base. But in 1960, Cuba was becoming more dangerous under the new Communist regime. Under pressure from the U.S. government to leave Cuba, the Hemingway’s vacated their beautiful, fourteen-acre property just outside the little village of San Francisco de Paula.

     Meanwhile, Pedro Oliva, Jr. (a/k/a "Tony Oliva") was playing baseball for his country team in the Pinar del Río province in western Cuba. By professional baseball standards in the United States, he was over the hill. Hardly anyone over the age of twenty would attract the attention of baseball scouts. In summer 1960, Oliva would celebrate his twenty-second birthday.

     Nevertheless, one scout took a special interest in Oliva. On April 9, 1961, not long after the Hemingways settled into their new home in Ketchum, Idaho, Oliva signed a contract to play professional baseball with the Minnesota Twins organization. Like so many Cuban citizens seeking a better life in America, Oliva made a gut-wrenching decision. The shy, mild-mannered young man with a wide smile showed courage under pressure, as Hemingway might say, and set his sights on America—in exchange for his uncanny knack for hitting baseballs, Oliva accepted a small signing bonus.

     Like Hemingway, Oliva had felt the political pressure of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro had ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959, and Oliva feared that there would never be another chance to improve his family’s financial condition in pursuit of his dream. So, just one week before the Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961, Oliva said a tearful goodbye to his extended family.

     Oliva was part of the last group of Cuban baseball players allowed to try out for U.S. teams. On April 9, 1961, he boarded a plane destined for Florida. But his first stop was Mexico City, where he needed to secure his all-important travel visa to enter the U.S. He couldn’t predict when he might see his family again. Castro had told the ballplayers, “If you want to go and continue your career in the United States, you are free to go. But if you stay here, you're going to stay for good.”

[This blog was extracted from a short story called Ernest Hemingway and Tony Oliva: How the Great Writer Helped the Great Ballplayer. You can find it on Amazon or by going to http://curtdeberg.com ].

 

Tony Oliva book cover.jpg

Edited by Curt DeBerg
Three small grammatical corrections and new banner photo

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