Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Don't it make you want to go home?

I came of baseball age in the early to mid-70's. The style of game that was played then, and the players who played it, were the ones who gave me the love of the game I still have today. The first World Series I really remember as being the World Series was in '75. That was a great one to start with, and it's only gotten better since then. I don't remember a lot about that particular series, to be honest. I remember Armbrister's bunt, and Dewey's catch, but not Fisk's homerun. I was probably in bed by then.

One person individually I did remember was Luis Tiant. I don't know why. I know I had his '74 baseball card, and it was probably the windup. But I knew who El Tiante was. And for some reason, he was always a favorite of mine, even though I didn't particularly care about the Red Sox, and even after he joined the Yankees. He was one of the dominant pitchers of my childhood, and always fun to watch.

Now he's having a documentary made of his life:

The career of legendary Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant comes alive again in Jonathan Hock's new documentary, "The Lost Son of Havana," part of Martha's Vineyard Film Festival's Summer Series, playing Wednesday, July 8, at the Chilmark Community Center. Along with producer Kris Meyer, executive producers Bob and Peter Farrelly, Vineyard summer residents, will field questions after the 8 pm screening.
Obviously, this is a localized event, but maybe it will get released on DVD soon, because I would love to see it.

There is a lot of difference between Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and Tony Perez (all guys who left Cuba in the early 60's) and the new way of defectors that have been making their way to the majors recently. Tiant, Olivia, and Perez all had to spend their time in the minors, and there was no guarantee they would make the big leagues. And it probably wasn't about the money, as the salaries at that time weren't what they are today. The Cuban defectors leaving today play in competitive leagues at home and internationally, and now they are looking at million dollar contracts as soon as they sign. I don't blame any of them for leaving, but it is a different situation today.

Tiant spent time in Mexico, and the minors before making his debut:

Tiant left his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 20 to play in Mexico. Already named 1960 Rookie of the Year in Cuba, the pitcher was drafted by the Cleveland Indians. Forty-six years passed before he could set foot in Cuba again.

The film captures Tiant's return - including visits with relatives, friends and fans - when he is invited to coach a goodwill exhibition game between Americans and Cubans. (Americans are still not legally allowed to visit.) There is a comic bureaucratic twist when the Cuban government requires even the camera crew to play in the game.
As someone who has lived all over the world most of my adult life, and now is an ex-pat in the UK, I know what it's like to be away from home. The difference is, Tiant didn't have the option of going back. I can always leave at any time, and never spent more than 3 years at a time without getting back to the states. Not being able to go home is rough. Not being able to go home for 47 years is unimaginable.

But Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again. And Tiant was able to finally do that:

As his remarkable story unfolds, the film builds rapport with the pitcher's family, friends and former colleagues in Cuba. The grim economics of living in Cuba become clear when one family member admits, "We're living on cigarettes."

A modest hero, Tiant, offers non-prescription medicine, toothpaste, and cash. "This is my country," he says. "I don't care about politics. If I die, I die happy."
I always say I don't care about what happens off the field. It's the game that counts, and the players personal lives and personalities don't matter to me. Mostly because it's always negative and judgemental. But fortunately, there are no absolutes in life, and this is a great, if somewhat bittersweet, story. Even guys like me should care something about this.

"The Lost Son of Havana," Wednesday, July 8, 8 pm, Chilmark Community Center, South Road, Chilmark. Preceded from 5 to 7 pm by Cinema Circus for children. Tickets, $12 for adults, $5 for children ($6 for MVFF members).

Original story from Brooks Robards at The Martha Vineyards Times

1 comment:

arizona bankruptcy attorney said...

I was a young teen in the Tiant days. Now, looking back, I wished I had watched a whole lot more tv back then. Missed seeing some really good players.