Tampa Bay Sports Day

Cuban Baseball Legends Honored at Cuban Cultural Center Conference

The Cuban Cultural Center of New York (CCCNY) [El Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York] presented its 10th Congress on Saturday at the McNally Auditorium of Fordham University’s Law School. The all-day event, from 8 AM until 8 PM, was held at an appropriate site as Esteban Bellán, the acknowledged “Father of Cuban Baseball’, graduated from the Rose Hill campus of St. John’s College, now Fordham University in 1868.

In the following year, the native of Havana, Cuba joined the Troy Haymakers, making him the first Cuban player in professional baseball in the United States. After six seasons in the U.S., he returned to Cuba, where he had a major influence upon the growth of the sport in his native land. Rafael Pi Román, of Channel 13, the program’s moderator, officially dedicated the conference to Bellán, who died in 1932, moments after the proceedings began.

Nine hours later, another legendary Cuban ballplayer was honored. Fortunately, 88 year old Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, was present to hear the accolades. After Miñoso modestly responded to a standing ovation that began upon his entrance into the auditorium, he was presented with an award for his outstanding career by Iraida Iturralde, the vice president of the CCCNY.

The octogenarian was gracious in his appreciation for the recognition and spoke of his pride in being a player and a Cuban. Miñoso reminisced about his lengthy career and his time in New York as a member of the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues.

Before beginning his sterling career in the majors, Miñoso played with the Cubans at the Dyckman Oval, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. During those years, 1945-9, he lived on Lennox Ave. From 1949-1964, Miñoso displayed his skills on the major league level. He batted .298, drove in 1,023 runs, produced 1,983 hits, scored 1,136 runs and thrilled the fans who watched him with his outstanding defensive skills as well. The star outfielder was awarded three Gold Gloves and was a six-time All-Star.

Miñoso played in the Cuban Winter League during the off-season during his sojourn in the U.S. He also was a star in the Mexican League (1965-73) after his career in the majors concluded. He was elected to the baseball hall of Fame in Cuba and Mexico. Many who saw him play in the U.S. believe he was worthy of election to the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown as well.

Miñoso briefly appeared twice more as a major league player, in 1976 and 1980, to tie Nick Altrock as the only two men to play five decades in the majors. He again appeared on the playing field in 1993 and 2003, for the St. Paul Saints in the Independent League, making him the only man to play during seven decades in professional baseball.

The extremely gracious and seemingly tireless former player signed autographs, posed for photos and answered questions from the guests at the conference long after his presentation ended.