Cuban baseball greats play in JP

August 31, 2012
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(Photo by Courtney Sacco) Alfredo Mora of the Cuba Veteranos makes a hit during the Aug. 25 game at Jamaica Pond Park.

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

The pick-up game was followed by a visit to Hyde Square’s landmark Cuban restaurant El Oriental de Cuba, where owner Nobel Garcia offered lunch on the house.

“We really felt the whole community in Jamaica Plain was welcoming,” said Mike Eizenberg, who helped organize the events for the EMASS Softball League and the Bay State Association.

Many locals came out to see the JP game. And when the teams played a series on Boston Common earlier this week, Eizenberg said, the Cuban team had a large cheering section.

“The only place that I can think [the cheering crowd] came from was Jamaica Plain,” he said.

Tony Gonzalez and Reinaldo Linares were among the legends of 1960s Cuban baseball who took the for a team known as the Cuba Veteranos. The American side included JP resident Michael Frank, the former head of the Jamaica Plain Regan Youth League baseball association.

After the JP visit, several of the players headed to Fenway Park as special guests at that night’s Red Sox game, where Gonzalez threw the first pitch. At the Boston Common game, longtime Hyde Square leader Tony Barros, Mayor Thomas Menino’s liaison to the Latino community, presented the Cuban players with certificates of recognition from the mayor.

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 was 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 who came to JP include Carlos Cepero and Armando Aguilar.

Les Gore, whose son Matt is a Regan League coach, 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.