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Curt DeBerg

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  1. [Here's a passage from my recent book paying homage to Tony O. I hope you like it. The book is available on Amazon Kindle (e-book or paperback), or you can find it at my website here: http://curtdeberg.com.] 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.
  2. As he was approaching his twenty-third birthday, Tony Oliva waved goodbye to his tightly-knit Cuban family and set off for the United States. But the road was rocky in Florida. The Twins decided that his poor fielding trumped his lively bat, so they released him. A dejected Oliva wanted to return home, but that would make his dream of making the big leagues impossible. Fortunately, fate intervened. Another Cuban ballplayer, Minnie Mendoza, took Oliva under his wing and introduced him to Phil Howser, the general manager of the minor league team from Charlotte, North Carolina. Howser and Papa Joe were friends, and he trusted Papa Joe’s recommendation about Oliva. Howser watched Oliva practice, and was impressed with the “not-so-young” Oliva's talent. He generously agreed to pay Pedro Jr.’s meals and lodging until he could help Oliva sign a long-term contract. Though there wasn’t a spot on the Charlotte team, the general manager was certain that another Twins affiliate would eventually sign him if he was given more time to prove himself. ********** By the 1950s, Ernest Hemingway had already achieved the highest honors in his profession. In 1953, he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and in 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway, who liked to be called Papa, loved baseball. But the late 1950s were not a good time for the great writer. While Oliva was spraying balls to all parts of the ballpark, batting fourth for the Los Palacios team in the Pinar del Río province, the peripatetic Hemingway—now in his late fifties—was starting a steep decline into depression. Ingesting copious amounts of alcohol by day, he would consume a large quantity of drugs at night to treat depression, hypertension, a liver ailment and eye problems. Did Papa Hemingway and Tony Oliva ever cross paths? It could have happened. Once in a while, Papa Joe Cambria would invite a friend to join him for a baseball game. Papa Joe was a scout for the Washington Senators (the Senators moved from Washington in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins), and he liked to have a drink or two in Havana’s Floridita bar. This story is part yarn, part fantasy and part truth. It is left to you, the reader, to decide which parts are true and which are fiction. [Note: the above blog was extracted from a book entitled, Ernest Hemingway and Tony Oliva: How the Great Writer Helped the Great Ballplayer. The book can be found on Amazon or by going to http://curtdeberg.com ].
  3. 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 ].
  4. 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!)
  5. Ernest Hemingway loved to tell stories. Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker called these stories “yarns.” His good friend, Aaron Hotchner, called them “practical joke fantasies.” Like all good storytellers, Hemingway exaggerated. Often, though, such talk gave him inspiration, and sometimes found its way into his writing. Tony Oliva tells a few good stories, too, but his greatest story wasn’t a joking matter, nor one that he has shared, to this day, with anyone but his closest family members. The most plausible story is the one recounted by Oliva’s biographer, Thom Henninger. In Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend (2015). In order for likeable young Oliva to have a realistic chance of being signed to a long-term contract by the Twins, he needed legal documentation showing that he was less than twenty years old—if a prospect was over twenty, the Twins would likely pass. Oliva, though, was actually nearing his twenty-third birthday, an age that would most likely be out of the ballpark for Twins owner Calvin Griffith. Papa Joe Cambria believed in Oliva, though. The young man could hit almost any pitch in and out of the strike zone, and he could drive the ball to every anywhere. If the Twins saw what he saw, Cambria knew that Oliva was major league material. How did Cambria make the Twins believe that Oliva was three years younger? No one really knows except for Tony and his family, but one thing is for certain: he needed help. Such aid, I suggest in this story, could have come from another Cuban Papa: they called him Papa Hemingway. With Cambria’s help, Oliva arrived in the U.S. under either his own name, or his brother’s name. The big question is: what is his real name? Is it Pedro Jr. or is it the next sibling, the next brother younger brother, Antonio, born almost three years after Pedro Jr.? According to Henninger, the first boy is Pedro Jr. and the next is Antonio. Pedro Jr. used his brother Antonio’s birth certificate to fabricate his age in order to obtain a travel visa to the United States. Under this scenario, Pedro Oliva, Jr. is the real name of the man we know as “Tony” Oliva. And it is for this reason that the Twins organization believed “Tony” (birth name “Pedro Jr.”) was three years younger than he really was.
  6. I've recently written a short story paying tribute to Tony Oliva and to my favorite author. Here's a blurb. I think readers of Twins Daily will find it to be of interest! Thanks....Curt Ernest Hemingway and Tony Oliva A Tale of How the Great Writer Helped the Great Ballplayer What do you get when The Old Man in the Sea meets Field of Dreams? You get an inspirational story by Curtis L. DeBerg. This charming little tale, only 58 pages long, is a tribute to two men: Ernest Hemingway, the great writer, and Tony Oliva, the great ballplayer for the Minnesota Twins. Oliva was formally inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame on July 24, 2022. 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, next to a little village called San Francisco de Paula. For nearly twenty-two years, the Hemingways had made the Finca Vigía their home base, but now, under pressure from the U.S. government, they vacated their beloved, fourteen-acre property. Meanwhile, 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. Oliva was nearing his twenty-second birthday. A scout for the Minnesota Twins recognized his talent, but he needed to "fudge" Oliva's age in order for the Twins to sign him. This could only be accomplished with some inside help. Did Papa Hemingway and Tony Oliva ever cross paths before leaving Cuba? Did the great writer help the great ballplayer forge the identity on his passport and travel visa? It could have happened. This story is part yarn, part fantasy and part truth. It is left to the reader to decide which parts are true and which are fiction. A perfect book for readers who love The Old Man and the Sea! See http://curtdeberg.com
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