[Marxism] Cuba still in thoughts of Sox hurlers Contreras, Hernandez

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 28 05:39:32 MDT 2005

It's amazing, isn't it, that here we see the spectacle of a pair
of Cubans who cannot go home to visit their families and celebrate
their successes in the World Series, while the Venezuelans who are
also part of the winning White Sox team can do exactly that. Why?

Normal relations between Venezuela and the U.S. continue, despite
the great differences between their governments. If there were a
normal relationship between Cuba and the United States, Cubans on
the island wouldn't need to go through the charade of "defection"
when they don't have real political issues, but only want to be
able to work abroad to advance their individual careers and make
more money. That's understandable, of course, with the prejudice
in favor of individualism being so widespread in the world today.

In recent years, Cuba's government has allowed some of its best
artists and atheletes to work and travel abroad. Some baseball
players, for example, played pro-ball in Japan. Dancer Carlos
Acosta works in the UK. Musicians ORISHAS work in Paris and also
tour the world. Cuba's government is naturally concerned that the
US and the lure of money will take even more Cubans away from the
island, so they don't let everyone travel and work abroad. Some
then defect in order to advance themselves individually and in
their professional careers. As we can see if we compare Venezuela
and Cuba in their relations with the United States, normalization
is a better way to go for all concerned. So this is an important
and interesting story which we should continue to follow.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Cuba still in thoughts of Sox hurlers Contreras, Hernandez
By Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

HOUSTON — Amid champagne showers in a jubilant Chicago White Sox clubhouse, 
Jose Contreras finally relinquished thoughts of his native land, if only 
for a brief while.

Chicago's Jose Contreras faced the Baltimore Orioles this past season. 
As he works for the White Sox, he thinks about his family in his native
Chicago's Jose Contreras faced the Baltimore Orioles this past season. 
As he works for the White Sox, he thinks about his family in his native
By Michael Madrid, USA TODAY

The White Sox had just won their first World Series since 1917, a
title that helped vindicate Contreras, labeled an expensive bust just
the year before in New York.

The big right-hander had won Game 1 of the eventual sweep of the
Houston Astros, and as he joined in the boisterous celebration inside
Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night, he let go of the homesickness
that has been a consistent companion since he defected from Cuba
three years and a day earlier.

Contreras' wife and children joined him in the USA in 2004, but his
mother and eight siblings remain. Wednesday's championship
celebration helped ease the longing for home.

"This is one of the few times when I haven't missed Cuba," Contreras
said in Spanish seconds after being doused by a teammate. "I know
after this I'm going to feel a little sad because my family hasn't
been able to share this victory with me, but later I'll talk to them
on the phone and they'll enjoy it, too."

A few feet away, countryman Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was
partaking in a rite that has been sweetly familiar to him since his
own defection in December 1997.

Hernandez has enjoyed the fruits of freedom longer than Contreras,
having earned three World Series rings with the New York Yankees, and
usually he doesn't publicly yearn for what he left behind.

As the bubbly dripped down his face, though, he acknowledged nothing
quite replaces his old homeland.

"We'll always think about Cuba; it's our country," Hernandez said,
"and today they must have been watching the game. But this is where
we make our living now."

They do it as world champions, in part because they have rejoined

After two years of unfulfilled promise, Contreras became one of the
best starters in the American League in the second half of this
season, going 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA to finish at 15-7, 3.61.

The extended hot spell earned him the starting nod in the opener of
the league's division and championship series, as well as last
Saturday's Game 1 of the World Series. He responded by winning three
of four decisions with a 3.09 ERA in the postseason.

"I have faith in him and made him believe we trust him," manager
Ozzie Guillen said. "He was so insecure."

Guillen said the White Sox signed Hernandez last December partly as a
mentor to Contreras. The two pitchers knew each other from the years
when Hernandez played for Industriales and Contreras for Pinar del
Rio in the Cuban league, as well as their time together on the
national team.

Their reunion in New York, where Contreras signed two months after
defecting in Mexico, was short-lived. Hernandez missed the entire
2003 season, Contreras' first in pinstripes, with a shoulder injury
that didn't allow him to return to the Yankees until July 11, 2004.
Three weeks later Contreras was traded to the White Sox for
right-hander Esteban Loaiza.

"We've become better friends here because we didn't spend that much
time together in New York," said Hernandez, a reliever for the White
Sox in the playoffs.

More comfortable in Chicago

White Sox backup catcher Chris Widger played for the Yankees in 2002
and spent spring training with them in 2003. Widger said he hasn't
noticed a difference in Contreras' stuff. His mind-set and the
circumstances surrounding him, however, have changed drastically.

Concern for his nuclear family have been removed. Wife Miriam and
daughters Naylan and Naylenis, 12 and 4, joined him in June 2004,
reaching Big Pine Key, Fla., on a 30-foot speedboat along with 22
other refugees. After spending 21 months apart, the family settled in

Contreras, who grew up in the countryside, never felt comfortable in
New York. He went 15-7 overall in his 1½ seasons there, but his 4.64
ERA and repeated struggles against the Red Sox were not what Yankees
owner George Steinbrenner envisioned when he outbid Boston for his
services, signing him to a four-year, $32 million deal in December

Enter Hernandez. El Duque doesn't have the zing in his arm from his
days as a fixture with the Yankees, but he brings expertise and moxie
to the mound.

Moreover, he brought a piece of Cuba into the White Sox clubhouse,
helping Contreras find a comfort zone. Their lockers are side by
side, much like the two pitchers on team trips.

"I've seen (Contreras) happier, more comfortable with himself, in the
clubhouse especially," said Ozzie Guillen Jr., the manager's
21-year-old son, who interprets for both pitchers and frequently
joins them for dinner on the road. "At first he was a little shy,
didn't say much. But now him and Duque are always together."

Pitching coach Don Cooper promptly points to Hernandez as the one who
suggested Contreras drop his pitching motion from overhand to
three-quarters or even sidearm, as he threw in Cuba.

The result of the mechanical and mental adjustments were a more
aggressive pitcher, one willing to trust his mid-90s fastball and
nefarious splitter. In the second half of the season Contreras'
strikeouts-to-walks ratio went from 1.5-to-1 to 3-to-1.

"Because he threw like that in Cuba, Duque said, 'Hey, let's go back
to being a Cuban pitcher,' " Cooper said. "Duque has been in the
middle of the whole thing since Day 1 this season. Pitch selection,
arm angle, how he'd pitch to a guy, what he knows about the guy. It's
been big.

"Who else could relate totally to what Contreras is about? El Duque.
They both escaped. One floated over, one flew over. There's a trust
there that's great for him."

And it allowed Contreras' jovial personality to come out. At 6-4 and
245 pounds, with a large, shaved head, Contreras has an intimidating
presence. But he's so jocular that Hernandez compares him to Cuban
comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, known through Latin America for
his biting humor.

"You never see him in a bad mood," said Freddy Garcia, a native of
Venezuela who won Wednesday's clincher. "People think he's shy, but
you just have to speak Spanish to know what kind of person he is."

Castro bestows nickname

Contreras remembers throwing 172 pitches in a 1997 game against
Japan. Two years later, he pitched seven innings in a Saturday game
and eight Monday as Cuba earned the gold medal in the Pan Am Games in

After that performance, Cuban President Fidel Castro nicknamed him
"El Titan de Bronce" (the Bronze Titan), a reference to a 19th
century Cuban rebel leader.

The majority of Contreras' relatives remain in Cuba — his mother,
eight siblings and several nieces and nephews — but at least now he
has a support system both at the ballpark and at home.

"I feel like I'm back with my team in Pinar del Rio," said Contreras,
who is listed as 33. "I'm comfortable with my teammates. I'm at ease,
pitching my game."

The hard part for many Cuban players comes after the season. Most of
the other Latino players go back to their home countries; Cuban
exiles don't have that option.

They accept that as the price of freedom and the chance to seek
fortune in America, some more reluctantly than others.

Guillen Jr. says the two Cuban pals frequently talk about their days
on the island and have expressed some jealousy about other players'
ability to return home.

"I know Contreras would give anything to go back for at least three
days," Guillen Jr. says.

Absent that possibility, Contreras comforts himself in knowing his
relatives listened to the World Series on the radio. And even though
they probably weren't able to watch the games, they're always
cognizant of how he and his team performed by the time he makes his
daily call.

The Bronze Titan — a moniker he uses in the greeting for his
cellphone voicemail — finds his escape on the mound.

"I miss everything about Cuba," he said. "I've dreamt about
schoolmates of mine from when I was 5 years old. Everything — the
food, my family, the neighborhood.

"What gets my mind off Cuba is baseball. Once I'm on the mound or I'm
getting ready, there's nothing else in my mind besides baseball. I
think if I weren't playing baseball I'd go crazy."

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