Cuban baseball greats to play in JP

August 17, 2012
By

A team of senior Cuban baseball players, including several major league and national team legends, will play softball against an American senior team at Jamaica Pond Park on Sat., Aug. 25 as part of a “Friendship Games” visit to Boston.

Tony Gonzalez and Reinaldo Linares are among the legends of 1960s Cuban baseball who will take the field in the park’s Pinebank section at Perkins Street and the Jamaicaway. The Cuban team is known as the Cuba Veteranos.

After pick-up games that morning at Pinebank field, several of the players head to Fenway Park as special guests at that night’s Red Sox game. Gonzalez will throw out the first pitch. Then on Aug. 26, the Cuban and American teams will play a series on Boston Common.

Since 2009, senior American players in the EMASS Softball League and the Bay State Association have made annual trips to Cuba to play in a senior softball tournament. For the first time, the Cuban team is now allowed to visit the U.S. Travel between the U.S. and Cuba has been restricted by both countries for a half-century, a legacy of the Cold War and bad relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Gonzalez, a shortstop, is famous in Cuba for his decade of major-league play on the Industriales. He also played in the Olympics for the country’s national team. Linares, a center-fielder, is another famous Industriales player. Other well-known Cuban players coming to JP include Carlos Cepero and Armando Aguilar.

Les Gore, whose son Matt is a coach in Jamaica Plain’s Reagan Youth League baseball program, was on one of the American teams that played in Cuba. He said that the Cuban players at first were not used to the slow-pitch softball, giving the Americans an edge.

“When they figured it out, they absolutely killed us,” he said.

“We have won some games down there, but they have won more,” said another American team member, Glenn Shambroom of Natick, in a press release. “They are great players, and it’s very tough to win on their home field. We’re ready for a very competitive series here in Boston.”

After the JP games, the players will head to Hyde Square’s landmark Cuban restaurant, El Oriental de Cuba, for lunch. Owner Nobel Garcia told the Gazette that he will be out of town that day, but he has arranged to “show them a good time.”

“Whatever they eat, it’s on me,” Garcia said.

The JP games begin at 9:30 a.m. at Pinebank Field. For more information, see emass-seniorsoftball.com.

Updated version: This version includes comments from El Oriental de Cuba’s owner.

Cuban and American teams pose together during a previous Friendship Games series in Cuba. (Courtesy Photo)