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Two books, one fact, one fiction, portray a different sports landscape in Cuba
Charles Hirshberg
May 01, 2000
Pitching Around Fidelby S.L. Price Harper Collins, $24
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May 01, 2000

Two Books, One Fact, One Fiction, Portray A Different Sports Landscape In Cuba

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Pitching Around Fidel
by S.L. Price
Harper Collins, $24

Imagine, if you can, a land where tickets to world-class baseball games cost less than a dime and where baseball players carry their own bags, chat amiably with fans and give their all for little more than love of the game. Imagine, too, a land where Big Brother watches jealously over his jocks and if he doesn't like what he sees, bans them from competition and sets them to work in an insane asylum or someplace very much like one.

�Bienvenidos a Cuba! Few subjects induce more visceral argument than our little island neighbor to the south and the furry comandante who rules it. But Pitching Around Fidel is a rarity: a balanced, compassionate, intimate journal of Cuba's slow, agonizing decay. Price, a senior writer at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, leaves no doubt that the reason Cuban athletes play for love of the game is that they have little else to play for. Food, let alone equipment, is scarce; locker rooms reek of sewage. Even Te�filo Stevenson, Cuba's Muhammad Ali, greets Price shoddily dressed and badly in need of a dentist's services.

Still, after weeks of eating, drinking and talking with hospitable Cuban athletes, Price finds U.S. athletes—most of them spoiled little corporations—more unappetizing than ever. Even Cuban players who make it to the States, he reports, seem to lose their kindness as quickly as their poverty. The Cuban family of New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordo�ez (who defected in 1993) remembers him as a sensitive, generous man who doted on the young son he left behind, Rey Jr. ("I'm just like my father," the boy proudly tells Price.) But back in the U.S., when the ballplayer is asked if he would like to send a little something to his Cuban relations, he replies, "F—-all those people. As far as I'm concerned, the whole island can sink."

Price wishes a kinder fate for that unlucky nation and its people. His readers will likely feel the same.

Havana Heat
by Darryl Brock
Total Sports Illustrated, $24.95

You won't find pitcher Luther Taylor in The Baseball Encyclopedia, despite his distinguished career with the New York Giants from 1900 to 1908, but you will find Dummy Taylor, the name by which he was better known—not for any mental defect but because he was deaf. Brock's story, based on Taylor's life, is a boilerplate sports yarn: Cut by the Giants, Taylor wants a last crack at the Show and goes on a barnstorming trip to Cuba, yadda, yadda, yadda, climaxing in the Big Game in Chapter 18. But Taylor, as imagined by Brock, is a unique, charming character, and the novel's evocation of early-20th-century baseball, with its loose discipline and colorful players, is vivid and convincing.