A Father's Ticket Out of Cuba: Baseball
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Here's a story about one immigrant's first experiences in the US from commentator Ana Hebra Flaster.
ANA HEBRA FLASTER:
When my father tells his baseball stories, I can almost hear the crowds in the stands, the crack of the ball and the bat. He left Cuba when he was in his teens to play AAA ball in the US. He played throughout the South, the Midwest and Mexico during the 1950s, hung out with a young Mickey Mantle, pitched a couple of times to Ted Williams in spring training with predictable results and enjoyed some fine on- and off-field brawls from Gainesville to Topeka.
I've heard these stories over and over again. Recently, though, he's added new ones, stories about how he, a light-skinned Cuban player, made his way through the Jim Crow South. He remembers the team's agent meeting the Latino players at the Key West Airport. The agent told them about what he called the `Southern law,' a law that kept blacks and whites apart, new rules about where to drink and eat and sleep, how to avoid white women.
Nothing could have prepared my father, though, for the feelings of shame and guilt when he played his role. He hated being separated from his black Latino friends at the end of each day when they headed to one motel and he went to another. My father roomed with the white players, even though his bad English kept him from understanding most of what they said.
For my father, one incident in particular stands out from those days. The team bus was approaching a barbecue kiosk late one night. They had either finished a game or were on their way to start a new series; my father isn't sure. But he does remember that everyone was hungry. The Latino players, black and white alike, could taste the American sauce on the chicken and ribs, even from their seats. They convinced the coach to stop. My father marvels still at how none of the American black players got off that bus. They knew better.
As the hungry players picked up their orders and sat at the picnic tables to eat, two police cars rolled up to the kiosk. The coach told the Latino players to stay quiet; he'd handle it, he said. But the police that night weren't listening to any man's explanations, nor were they impressed by the group of white players that stood up in support of their black teammates. The police simply picked up each of the black players' trays and dumped their food on the ground, and then they pushed the black players toward the bus. My father, like most of his teammates, walked in quiet fury behind them.
As he finished telling me about that night, my father remembered two final details. He could hear a few of his teammates sobbing quietly in the dark as the bus pulled away, and he knew who they were based on where the sounds came from, the front or the back of the bus.
SIEGEL: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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