August 9, 2017

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Lasting Memories

August 9, 2017

Last month I reunited with old friends whom I hadn’t seen in thirty years. I got to know them while researching baseball in the Dominican Republic. In 1987 Jimmy was a bellhop in the hotel where I first stayed in Santo Domingo, and upon learning he loved baseball I invited him to join me for a game at Quisqueya Stadium. We became fast friends and attended many games together. He invited me to his home village in the mountains for Christmas. Matayaya was a serene farming co-op where people kept their doors open around the clock and neighborhood children darted in and out of each other's homes. There was no electricity and indoor plumbing, and the town green was a rough baseball diamond where the entire village congregated on Sundays for the village league. The hospitality in the village was like nothing I’d seen – a neighbor offered me his horse, Jimmy's 12-year-old brother Ubaldo and neighborhood children took me to the river to bathe and swim, and everyone I encountered shook my hand warmly. If a male farmer’s hands were dirty he offered his wrist or elbow. I had returned to the DR once after my first trip, but lost touch with Jimmy's family until a couple of months ago when Ubaldo emailed. He had found a baseball author named “Dan Gordon” on the web (there is more than one actually) and asked if I was "the tall, skinny, shy and white guy" who was "always writing and with camera in hands." He fondly recalled my stay with his family, my daily routine which included teaching him English, and my travels to nearby "small villages, the border of DR and Haiti and many more places, all of that gave him first hand information about the creativity of those kids to play the game but also the poverty and the struggles those Dominican baseball players have to overcome in order to be successful and make it to the major league." He said he still had the Spanish-English dictionary I had given him 30 years ago. He had gone on to college where he was on the national track team. He had competed in the Pan Am Games and had emigrated to the US ten years ago. He now worked for a municipal water department in New Jersey. Jimmy had secured a visa eight months ago and was now living with him. Having never thought we would see one another again, it was an emotional reunion. They presented gifts to my family and took us to St. Nicholas Street in Washington Heights, the commercial hub for Dominican-Americans living in the NYC metropolitan area. My daughter Caroline picked up a bit of Spanish and we ate mofongo at a Dominican restaurant with walls lined with baseball photos. The trip inspired me to dust off the baseball travel memoir manuscript that I haven’t touched in years and start dreaming of my next trip to the DR. It also inspired me to start this blog about baseball around the globe and the places and people I've met during my years of research on global baseball. Of course I may slip in observations about baseball superstition. Stay tuned.

 Ubaldo (right front) with Jimmy standing behind him in 1987.

 Baseball squad from Matayaya. Like most amateur teams in the DR, they were proud to play despite  mismatching uniforms.

 The village commons and baseball diamond.

 Jimmy's house.

 Backyard of Jimmy's house. 

 A neighbor practicing stickball.

 Children of Matayaya in 1987.

 Crossing the border into Haiti. First time out of the country for Ubaldo (blue shirt) and Jimmy (in white).

 Fast forward thirty years. Ubaldo (left), Jimmy (right), and I.

 The Spanish-English dictionary I gave Ubaldo thirty years ago.

 Jimmy at Casa de Mofongo.

 Caroline picking up where I left off in the DR. Mofongo is made from mashed fried plantains, garlic, salt,, oil and chicharron.

 Casa de Mofongo in Washington Heights.

 

 My wife Shoko, daughter Caroline and I flanked by Jimmy and Ubaldo in Washington Heights.

 

 Jimmy experienced his lifelong dream of attending a major league ball game in April. His favorite all-time player (mine too)  Tony Pena is coaching first base for the Yankees.

 

 

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