CUBATrek 2022


[as a preamble this is written from a United States perspective who are a minority of overall visitors to CUBA.]

This trek was dedicated to my dear friend, Dr. Esteban Dominguez Morales who passed away earlier this year.  Over the years we developed a great friendship.  He explained how he joined the revolution as a young teenager. As he gained formal education; achieving two pHD's, including one from Russia, he became a leading voice in Cuban social issues and economics.  His seminal work on race helped me immensely in better understanding the culture

My trek to Cuba (Coo-ba) just ended.  I remind those who ask the big difference between a trek and a vacation; is work and sacrifice.  Another critical element is my treks are based on a laser-focused efficient budget.  Many of you who follow my articles already know how my passion for Cuba was developed after my first visit in 2015.  The first year was simply more of a bucket-list adventure: explore the country first-hand.  Upon returning that experience led me to do more research into the culture and the history.  I discovered the book “Race in Cuba” and after reading it I had many questions.  Ever since then I committed to doing solid research on racism in Cuba and the impact of Negro League baseball in Cuba. Based on my progress I have two more treks to complete my research and then I will be able to formally publish

Going to Cuba has fascination for many. As the Caribbean’s largest country at 11 million, like many countries there are contradictions. Currently a small but notable population is fleeing the country and seeking asylum status to whatever country that will accept them. The country is dealing with issues where people must make adjustments. It is not as bad as the 1990’s when the Soviet Union collapsed resulting in them not receiving the financial support they had come to expect. From my real-life interviews that was a brutal period where people were fighting for basic survival. The current situation is tough as shortages and other sacrifices are an everyday reality.

While the Biden administration has clawed back some of the draconian measures the Trump administration implemented, those traveling from the United States must be diligent in understanding approved regulations to visit the country. At the same time I notice some are willing to take the risk and travel as a tourist doing things such as visiting beaches, visiting government run businesses and enjoying the country. They do so at their own peril because while the Cuban government may turn the other way, returning back home may result in severe questioning or imposing financial penalties. Part of the basic requirement in visiting is you must have a bullet-proof itinerary (in your possession at all times with your passport and travel visa) to document your “business.”

I missed my 2021 trek as even though Covid was simmering down, the airlines had elevated ticket prices that my pockets could not handle.  Luckily, 2022 showed greater promise as prices became more affordable.  The biggest hitch was selecting a reliable airline because there are many that claim to accommodate Cuba.  I was looking at United but at the last minute had to switch because they were having logistical issues in flying into Jose Marti International.  Luckily American offered the right combination.  LAX to Miami and then off to Havana.

I normally make my treks in November, before or after Thanksgiving so this time I needed to dedicate the entire month as we added going to Belize to witness the Garifuna Settlement celebration. Around August I had to move it into high gear and move into the final planning phase.  This was critical because going to CUBA is very fluid or everchanging as was the case with money or the value of the U.S. Dollar as well as accommodations.

My itinerary was solid as I planned for meetings, interviews and other interactions.  The focus of this trek was to visit Matanzas; San Severino Slave Castle and Palmarde Junco, which in 1874 became Cuba’s first baseball stadium. I am proud to report, even today it stands in its glory as games are still played there.  Additionally, there was much to do in Havana as well as Camaguey and then on to Santiago.  The notion of understanding racism goes back before the revolution which is why it was important for me to see the Moncada barracks as it became a pivotal moment in history. My initial goal was to travel using the updated train system but my host in Matanzas convinced me it was too perilous as schedules were unpredictable.  After acquiescing I made my journey from Havana to Santiago via the Viazul.  Below are highlights of my trek.

Tourist Visa

Assuming you meet one of the twelve categories to travel to Cuba, a tourist visa is basic documentation U.S. citizens will also need to travel.  From my experience pricing will range from $25 to $100.  Staff is generally positioned adjacent the airline you are flying to enter CUBA.  The lower prices are generally available for non-US flights. Unlike past years there is no fear by having your passport stamped by Cuban immigration or suffering the rath once you return to the U.S. and being questioned, “what were you doing in Cuba?”

Inflation

For those whining about inflation I would encourage them to visit Cuba.  As mentioned there are severe shortages of the most basic commodities.  The CUP (Cuban peso) is very fluid and fluctuates daily.  You can exchange on the informal market but like most things – Buyer beware!  In other words, you need to develop a reliable source, or the alternative is simply to exchange at Cadeca’s or banks.  During my visit the rate was ranging $1 equal 110 pesos.  My rate on the informal market was $1 to 150 pesos.  This is a tremendous benefit assuming you are comfortable doing business with the local economy, but you must ditch any resemblance as a tourist.

You will notice national products (i.e., tabac [cigars], rum, coffee and other items) can only be had with an international card.  That can spell trouble as the card is pegged almost dollar to dollar as many of the products are marked in that currency.  One thing I did notice is a few shops at the airport accept CUPs, so that is another opportunity to stretch your buying power.

Shortages

As you’re doing your research on Cuba you will discover lots of news on shortages.  They are real and for most Cubans it remains a nagging headache to wait in endless lines to try and retrieve basic goods.  The other shortage which was new during this trek was the power.  Until you witness it, it is hard to phantom.  The solution is exceptional organizing of your day as well as your resources in preserving power (mobile phones, computers, etc.)

Transportation

Trekking is not for the week and feeble.  For this trek based on my Epson smartwatch I pegged 96 miles of walking!!!!!  The rest was cabs and motorcycles (rider).  For this trip I had planned to ride the local buses, which are now 2 pesos, but logistics prevented that experience.  I journeyed from Havana to Santiago and provinces in between via the Viazul bus system.  Interestingly, locals are prevented from riding the Viazul and must travel on the national buses.  The reason I was told was because the country is trying to ramp up tourism and needs every available seat to those visiting the country. Here is the bottom-line, the country of Cuba is wide and from Havana to Santiago is about 15 hours (except flying which is prohibited from my budget). YOU MUST PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE OUTSIDE OF CUBA (online) and in my case as mentioned I was planning to take the train from Matanzas to Camaguey so I had to do some quick thinking. I contacted my daughter in the US and gave her my Viazul credentials and she was able to secure the ticket and email it to me so I could travel. The cost was:

  • Havana to Matanzas = $21
  • Matanzas to Camaguey = $31
  • Camaguey to Santiago = $21
  • Santiago to Havana = $56

So for $115 I was able to literally go across-country. Of course some chose to fly or hire private taxis. That was not my reality as I opted for the more affordable option. As stressed, this type of travel is not for everyone but for me it is perfect. It does make stops along the way. You are able to go into towns you probably never would have the opportunity to go. THERE ARE NO RESTROOMS ON THE BUS. A smart traveler will always sneak some tissue into their luggage as the custom in Cuba when there are stops is to pay to use the restroom (10 pesos). Also, it is not uncommon for the bus to pull over in the rural terrain to allow those who simply can’t wait to relieve themselves.

Internet

I surely do not come to Cuba to lay on the internet but you do need that resource for communication. The system has greatly improved in Cuba. You now have several options which include getting a sim card, getting a phone, internet cards, etc. I selected internet card and to my surprise the prices have greatly decreased. In the past it was not uncommon to pay 1:1 or with US Dollars. As an example 5 hours would cost $5. Of course some access cards on the informal market. For me I prefer to go to the Ectesa office. Expect a wait should you use this option as there is usually a line to get into the office. I waited about three hours but it was worth it as to my surprise three 5 hour cards cost 375 pesos the equivalent of $2.50 based on my exchange rate. One important thing while the service has greatly improved part of your logistics planning is to map out available hotspots based on your travels.

PHOTOS

Photos of the trek can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate link

CUBA Internet Card


I am preparing for my ’22 trek and updating various services I will need because things are very fluid in the country and changing more rapidly. One of the most important services is access to the internet. To access the internet in Cuba the two popular systems offered by the national communication company – ETECSA: You will find them all over the country and typically they work in populated areas. Also, in those areas you will find hotspots or places to connect (parks, stadiums, public places, etc.)

SIM Card

Internet Card

As mentioned some of you know CUBA is going through an inflationary period, which translates to their currency is being devalued or cost less to non-Cuban consumers. The primary currency is the CUP (pesos) and the current bank rate is 24:1, however on the blank market that price jumps 3, 4,5 times or more – but buyer beware!!!!

This is current information I received directly from Etecsa. As an example a 30 minute card is 12.50CUP or 50 cents.

PHOTOS FROM 2020 CUBA TREK

Cuban National Players in MLB v2022


This year’s edition is late but once again we note professional baseball players who hail from Cuba and are now playing in Major League Baseball (MLB). The list is compiled from those making the 40 player roster of the thirty MLB teams. Like many professional sports in the United States the rosters have become more diversified representing players from all over the globe.

Cuba has a tremendous baseball legacy. It is the national sport. It became a key topic in my journey to explore the Negro League’s presence in a country where the teams were welcomed and a strong brotherhood was created. Before the U.S. imposed embargo players and many teams took great joy to make the trek to the Caribbean’s largest country. Even though key players have departed resulting in a sharp decline of their status in World Baseball Rankings, they still pose a threat to teams that take them lightly. In the last decade they were consistently in the top 5 and currently have jumped two spots to claim the 9th position.

A critical observation of my research is posing the question – will CUBA baseball go the way of the Negro Leagues? From my perspective the answer is no because while the talent has decimated during the last decade, baseball in Cuba is a national commodity whereas the Negro Leagues were part of the African-American culture making it much easier to transition into the broader society.


A couple of notes from this year’s edition

  • The 2022 lineup totals 27 players, an increase of two.
  • American league teams have the majority of players at 17, unchanged from last year.
  • The National league has 10.
  • Surprisingly 15 teams have ZERO players.
  • Cuban National players account for approximately 2% of all players.
  • MLB escalated investing in Latin America in the early ’60’s and it is not surprising that Dominican Republic leads the pack.
  • Another important feature of this list is understanding Cuban baseball is still strong but over the years the top talent has been diluted as more players have defected or made it over to the U.S.A.


TEAMS20212022Change 2022 v 2021
Arizona Diamondbacks001
Atlanta Braves322
Baltimore Orioles130
Boston Red Sox000
Chicago Cubs000
Chicago White Sox441
Cincinatti Reds221
Cleveland Indians000
Colorado Rockies010
Detroit Tigers000
Houston Astros332
Kansas City Royals100
Los Angeles Angels101
Los Angeles Dodgers111
Miami Marlins010
Milwaukee Brewers000
Minnesota Twins000
New York Mets000
New York Yankees111
Oakland Athletics111
Philadelphia Phillies000
Pittsburgh Pirates010
San Diego Padres101
San Francisco Giants000
Seattle Mariners000
St. Louis Cardinals101
Tampa Bay Rays220
Texas Rangers121
Toronto Blue Jays110
Washington Nationals111
TOTALS25272

Whether you are a serious fan of Cuban baseball or the Negro Leagues you will find this documentary an outstanding piece to help you better understand the history. It came out in 2020 and I viewed it as part of my Amazon account.


Here is another good doc to give more perspective. The material is good but the authors appear somewhat bias towards to bitterness to the Castro regime. For me, of all the interviews and voices presented I did not count one from an Afro-Cuban perspective, but still good information to balance your thoughts. The doc is part of public broadcasting so you will need to match up your local channel and when it (if) will be shown.

Fred is a baseball historian who has studied and researched the game at length. His relationship to Cuba stemmed from understanding how the Negro Leagues operated during segregation. Further he has been able to visit many stadiums in Cuba while taking in various games. Currently his visits have escalated and allowed him to visit many landmarks as well as interview those in Cuba who understand the current dynamic as well as a historical appreciation of when the Negro Leagues were prominent and how the sport was a common denominator to bridge the communication gap.

My friend Esteban Dominguez Morales 1943-2022


Those of you who follow my writings, specifically my treks to Cuba have seen references to my dear friend Esteban Dominguez Morales.  I know him as “The Professor.”  Planning for my Cuba trek in November I just found out from his wife, Katia that he unexpectedly passed away while visiting family in Columbia.

The Professor left this world a better place and as I pen this article, I mourn his passing and praise God for allowing our lives to intersect.

Like many who have not been to Cuba, the country is known to have an intriguing appeal.  Due to the common sense approach the Obama administration fostered about developing a better relationship with Cuba, I was able to make my first trek in 2015  Planning for that trip I stopped by Eso-Won books in Leimert Park to see if there were any new titles about Cuba.  Tom pointed me to two books, and I purchased both.  One of the books “Race and Culture” seemed interesting so I set my sights on reading it once I returned.  After reading it I had many questions and reached out to the author.  Lo and behold he responded and that was the beginning of the friendship with Esteban Dominquez Morales.  Following that communication, I was determined to visit again and gain first-hand knowledge of some of the things we communicated about.  Following Obama’s term as president I had to brush up on my entry requirements since Trump took office and created ridiculous antics making it more difficult for United States citizens to visit. Luckily, I was a published author and was able to boot-leg on my credentials so that I could enter the country and safely return without suffering any penalties. With the professor’s help I was able to set my focus to study and gain a better perspective on Racism in Cuba and the Negro League’s presence in Cuba.  In creating my itinerary and scheduling time to meet various authors, activist, and other officials, including the Professor he suggested I stay at his apartment since he had a legitimate casa particulares.  That was perfect.

Over the years the Professor and I spent countless hours in his office and his home talking about the culture, the politics and other issues which were important to me. On occasions, Katia would pop in and offer input  Even though he was retired from teaching at Havana University, he agreed to take me to the campus as well as one of his meetings with the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).  The reverence other professors gave him once they knew he was on campus was incredible.

“The surprise death of Esteban Morales pains us. We will miss his intelligent, incisive and committed assessment of the problems of our time. My condolences to his family, friends and the Cuban intelligentsia, which he gave prestige to with his work”. Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez

Esteban Dominguez Morales was a very decent person, and I am so grateful of the time we spent together.  I will cherish the memories and pray that Katia and his family recover and continue their journey in living a positive life. Thanks to them I have gained an invaluable perspective of the Cuban culture. In 2021 I was not able to make the trek as the remnants of Covid and international travel saw air travel triple if not quadruple in prices. Since then they have come down.

Eastcoasttrek ’22


For this year’s trek we decided to stretch things out. In addition to flying to our initial destination which was BWI (Baltimore-Washington International airport) our mode of getting around was Amtrak. Of course getting to/from Canada we rented a car. Once we got back to the states we opted for public transportation via metro (District of Columbia and New York City) and resorted to a lot, and I mean a lot of walking – based on our smartwatches in seven days we trekked 94.3 miles walking. Oh yeah, one confession but only due to several emergencies where time was not on our side – we opted for Uber on three occasions. Trekking is not for the weak or feeble or those who enjoy the usual comforts of travel. On the other hand our style allows us to experience many things most miss. As usual once we got back into the District of Columbia we were joined by our foodie extraordinare, Renie Hale. As we moved to New York we were joined by my sister Angela.

Countries Visited

United States

Canada

States Visited

Maryland

Connecticut

Vermont

Massachusetts

New York

Cities Visited

Springfield

Baltimore

New Haven

Colchester

Montreal

Plattsburgh

New York City

District of Columbia

Hanover

Highlights of the trek

We knew this trek would require more laser-focused planning. Our funds were limited as was our time but we were willing to move it from 5 days to 7 days. This allowed us to visit Canada, New York and some places we simply did not have time in previous treks. The highlights are goals of this trek was:

Visit Montreal

Experience the Amtrak/Acela

Go to the CITIFIELD Rotunda, home of the New York Mets

CitiField pays homage to Jackie Robinson and even though it is the home field for the New York Mets, the stadium resembles historic Ebbetts Field which is where the Dodgers played.

Visit the new Jackie Robinson Museum in New York City.

This venue just opened and luckily we timed our trek to be able to see the exterior. Luckily one of management staff saw us peering through the windows and came outside to tell us about the museum. It is easy to find and right off the “canal” street subway stop as the entrance is on Vartick Avenue.

Visit the Capitol and go to Statuary Hall to see the new statue of Dr. Bethune. This indeed was the historic highlight as it was recently installed.

This installation had been delayed for over a year due to the insurrectionist and Trump acolytes who damaged the Capitol after falling prey to Donald Trump’s hustle that the 2020 election was stolen. Anyway, there is a process to enter this sacred building. Your congressional rep must coordinate your visit and you will receive a letter (via email) granting entry. The statue of Dr. Bethune representing the state of Florida is magnificent and very historic as she replaces a confederate general (each state is allowed two statues).

TO SEE FULL CEREMONY CLICK HERE

Visit Metropolitan AME as they just recently started back to having full worship.

Built in 1838 this historic cathedral is one of our must-stops when in DC. Due to Covid they recently started in-service worship so we were blessed to be able to be in attendance.

Visit Brooklyn to see where Judith lived

Arriving in 1972 this is the spot she called home and it had been years since she last saw the property.

Visit the Goodman League at Barry Farms to see some playoff games.

The housing projects were removed four years ago but the spirit of the Goodman League remains. It is outdoor basketball at its finest and represents more than just a game played within the rectangular courts. The diversity of the community is on full display. Miles Rawls and his team bring a first-class operation for all who are bold enough to go “inside the gates” at the BF arena to take part in this cultural phenomenon.


PHOTOS these are some of the images captured – CLICK LINK

Our Foodie experience

As you can imagine burning 94 miles requires a lot of fuel so yes we did lots of eating and drinking. Some spots were our favs and of course part of trekking or globetrekking is experiencing new venues. Most are good and a few were just terrible so in fairness we attempt to communicate accuracy……..based on our perspective.

Rita’s Italian Ice

Rhode Island NE, District of Columbia

Rita’s was a great find by Renie. Even though they are franchised you will appreciate their consistency. We opted for their famous Gelati which is 1/2 Gelato & 1/2 shaved ice – refreshing and outstanding.

Ooh’s & Aah’s

5933 Georgia Ave Washington, DC 20011

Oooh’s & Aaah’s specializes in soul food or down home southern – very tasty.


Ben’s Chili Bowl

1213 U St. N.W. Washington, DC 20009

A DC institution and one of the best half-smokes to be found.


Dallas Bar-B-Que

241 W 42nd Street New York, NY 10036

Known for tasty Q and amazing cocktails. Located in Times Square a great find by Angela.


Jimmy’s Seafood

6526 Holabird Ave, Baltimore, MD 21224

Jimmy’s is a Baltimore institution known for their great crab presentations.


Cheesecake Factory at the Live in Hanover

7002 Arundel Mills Circle Hanover, MD 21076

Located in the Live Casino complex, great selections at affordable prices.


K Coffee & Bagel – 7th Avenue & 34th Street – Times Square, NY

Located across the street from the Moxy, this is a great option versus the more fancy coffee shop located next door.

Bergen Bagels

473 BERGEN STREET – Brooklyn, NY

Great options and muffins as big as your head. Plenty of variety at affordable prices.

Sylvia’s

328 Malcolm X Blvd New York, NY 10027

A Harlem institution, Sylvia’s has earned its reputation. Food is great and a nice variety of southern specialties.


Citifield Stadium

41 Seaver Way – Flushing, NY 11368

We opted for the philly cheesesteak which was very tasty and topped it off with a Brooklyn lager.

Aloha Poke

50 Massachusetts Ave NE Union Station, L027, Washington, DC 20002

A great light lunch while waiting for the train.

Legasea at the Moxy

485 7th Ave. (at 36th St.) New York, NY 10018

A bit pricey but great presentation. Now, the rolls are the best I’ve had in years.

BF Coliseum vendor

Barry Farms Housing Project – Anacostia, District of Columbia

This is one of my favs for all of those hard-working folk who bring great food to those watching games at the Barry Farms arena. Slim only serves platters and you get bang for your buck and during this trek his homestyle mac and cheese complete with his country crust made for an unbelievable meal. What a bargin for $20 bucks.

Sweet Home Café

1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560

This is a must-stop. I opted for the southern fried chicken, mac and cheese and greens.


Jab’s Ice Cream

A great change of pace. Shaved ice seemed a bit pricey but it was hot/muggy and this offering was very tasty while hitting the spot.

Alexandre et fils

1454 Rue Peel, Montréal, Qc H3A 1T5

A very nice cafe in Montreal. Service was outstanding and fish and chips was tops as was the chilled wine. The cesar salad was very tasty as it came with bacon bits.

Le Centre Sheraton

Their cafe is adequate but could use some creativity in their menu selections.

Monopole’s

This is a historic venue but they are in desperate need of some find tuning. We opted for the pizza and chicken tenders and while tasty we were disappointed of the limited menu selections or everything being one dimensional of either being fried or baked in a pizza over.

Wahlburgers

Very tasty but a bit pricey.

Café Vasco da Gama

1472 Peel St, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1S8, Canada

A great cafe and coffee bar. I was able to grab some Lily espresso sets.

If you are a homeowner or about to be a homeowner THIS IS A MUST READ


The signs of “White Only” or “Negroes get your food by the back door” have long been removed.  But, the vestiges of racism remain, even in 2022. It is a systemic construct that will not disappear, at least not in my lifetime. Many of us have learned to navigate the treacherous waters that are prevalent in our day to day lives. This article is a prime example and a great lesson for those who might think racism went away when President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation or when Dr. King gave his “I have a dream speech.”

The phrase “getting the American Dream” is tossed around as an achievable aspiration. However, history and current reality remind us that preamble wasn’t necessarily meant for us; those who are African American.

In the mid-80’s several well known fortune 100 companies were gobbling up mortgage lenders to create a subsidiary business for their well-heeled clientele who might one day become mortgage customers.  American Express was a key sponsor with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Once the games ended key staff were directed to apply for post-Olympic employment opportunities with sponsors such as American Express. At the time, I had no clue what a mortgage banker was. My background was marketing. American Express had a subsidiary called Shearson-Lehman and their mortgage banking division was taking off. I jumped at the opportunity. I quickly learned how subjective staff charged with processing and underwriting a loan were; simply based on their upbringing or their societal perspectives. Of course since then a lot has changed but people are people and it is hard to strip away their biases.

Fast-forward to the article, many still swear racism is over and everybody is treated equal. The article points to a very clear, if not painful lesson that many have to endure.  Just when you think you may have “made it” it is examples like this which remind you the work must continue to go forward to break the veil of prejudice and racism.

PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ THE ARTICLE

Vin Scully – A Reflection


The “Great Scully” retired from the Dodgers in 2016. Die-hards like me knew at the time he was a bit ill, if not up in age. Selfishly we held out hoping he would physically be here forever or up to the end of our lives. He passed yesterday as the news came while we were watching the Dodgers v Giants game at Oracle Park. Coincidently, it was Oracle (at the time A.T.T.) where he called his last game in 2016.

Vin Scully was a genius. You can peruse the internet for all type of tidbits and facts. I’m 70 and in 1959 I believe I attended my first Dodger game at the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I vaguely remember but I learned about Vin by listening to games with my grandmother. Over the years, I was guilty as charged as I took many transistor or portable radios to the games I attended, just to hear Scully. Today’s announcer’s have a lot to learn…..if they are serious about their craft and strive for excellence? Unlike today’s parody’s, he wasn’t “just” a cheerleader for the home team or some partisan hack – he called the game as he saw it. Specifically in baseball, he knew what fans wanted to hear and in listening to games there are critical elements that supersede normal chatter. With Scully you knew he was consistent in making sure you knew the inning, the count and the score. Incredible.

Scully at the Shell station

As my working career was winding down I went to work with a fortune 100 company that had a campus/office space in Calabasas. The year was 2013 or 2014 and it was either February of March. While grabbing lunch I decided to get some gas as well so I headed down to the Shell station on Las Virgenes just south of the 101. After pumping my gas I noticed a lad behind me who was wrapping up pumping his gas. Lo and behold, it was the “Great Scully.” We exchanged pleasantries and as bad as I wanted to ask him for a picture, I refrained because in my gut I knew he treasured his privacy. We briefly chatted about spring training and the prospects for the upcoming season. That brief encounter may appear nerdy or inconsequential to some but for me it was priceless and something I will never forget.

Today I wanted to pay my respect so I trekked down to the ravine and was pleased to see other fans doing to same. Also I hustled over to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and there was Vin’s start on the north side of Hollywood, JUST EAST OF 6678 Hollywood Blvd.



On August 5th, 2022 the Dodgers returned home to host the Padres who made noise earlier in the week as the trade-deadline ended and they grabbed some extra talent in their bid to catch the Dodgers or at a minimum make the playoffs. A sold-out crowd packed into the Ravine as the team honored Scully with pre-game festivities, capped by a spectacular fireworks show. As a fete to Vin, the Dodgers rolled past the Padres 8 – 1.

92nd MLB All-Star Game – Celebrating Jackie Robinson


The 92nd Major League Baseball All-Star game pulled out of Los Angeles this past Wednesday morning and is now headed to Seattle Washington for next year’s summer classic.

The game this year had several significant twist for Dodgers fans like us. For the first time in 42 years the game was back at Chavez Ravine. The number 42 also represented the coveted number worn by Jackie Robinson. Just as important the game was played on July 19th which happened to coincide with Mrs. Rachel Robinson’s 100th birthday.

For us it was a great experience. We participated in several days at the CapitalOne Ballpark Experience which took over the Los Angeles Convention Center and adjoining L.A. Live complex. We also attended the Home Run derby which was a great exhibition, although as a die-hard baseball fan I must admit some of the duels appeared tainted with manipulation………ummm.

We kicked off the final event by attending the All-Star game. The representation of fans at the game wearing their favorite team gear was just as impressive as the simmering heat. Here are some pics of our experience.

CapitalOne Ballpark Experience



As a person who appreciates the history of the Negro Leagues it was great to attend a panel themed “The Life & Legacy of Jackie Robinson.” To truly understand the impact you would need to familiarize yourself with his stint as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs.

CLICK HERE TO SEE FULL VIDEO

The world remembers Jackie breaking the color barrier in 1947 but another key reason why owners were reluctant to integrate was the huge sums they were making from the popular Negro Leagues who used major league stadiums to play while they were on the road. They were making money hand-over fist, for basically doing nothing but opening the gates. Once they let Jackie in and the other great players followed, the Negro Leagues waned and the owners lost that source of income they had enjoyed for all of the years.” Bob Kendrick, Executive Director Negro League Baseball Museum.


As mentioned we were able to attend the popular Home Run Derby thanks to Jackie from MLB who gifted us with tickets.


We contemplated on going to the game as for month’s we pondered if the tickets would be out of reach for our budget?It was decided the event was too important to pass up so we made adjustments to make sure we could witness the game, as if it took 42 years for the game to land back at the Ravine, more than likely we would not be here physically the next time it was awarded to the Dodgers. Normally we are in Loge 130 but we opted for the right field pavilion for a different experience.


The game was important but the one issue for us was whether Mrs. Robinson would be in attendance? We have seen her numerous times at the Ravine as over the years she has consistently appeared. Even at 99, looking glamorous and regal she was present this past April 15th. Here is a special clip prepared by MLB “Celebrating Rachel”

CELEBRATING RACHEL – CLICK HERE

Understandingly she did not make it but Mookie Betts summoned all players to the home plate area and asked the 54,000+ fans to join him in wishing her a Happy Birthday.


Another highlight was having Denzel Washington, who is no stranger to Dodger Stadium give a poignant presentation on Jackie Robinson.

Denzel tribute



Finally, I haven’t been able to locate the clip but as soon as I do it will be posted. MLB’s Harold Reynold’s featured a special about the Legacy of Jackie Robinson. It featured Spike Lee, President Bill Clinton, Bo Jackson and Bud Selig. IT IS A MUST SEE.

What ever happened to South Los Angeles Martin Luther King, Jr. Little League?


“A decade of excellence”

a perspective

[caution – this is a lengthy post]

If you ask people if they played organized little league baseball in their youth, most will affirm with a yes response. The facts are while many youth played some sort of organized baseball, odds are especially if they lived in urban parts of our country, they did not play Little League, Inc. baseball. The game of baseball is straightforward, and most cities offer organized leagues commonly known as park ball. On the other hand, Little League, Inc. baseball has a different protocol of how the leagues operate.  Typically, as the civil rights movement became somewhat of a social equalizer, just as people fled urban centers rather than face integration and to share power, resources and responsibilities there was an exodus and the suburbs became their oasis. As they fled, so did their institutions as well as jobs and other infrastructure. Those left behind were defined as urban. Little League, Inc. embraced the movement and they became well known in most suburban communities. Ideally you would not know the difference of play or league structure, and some would argue what is the big deal?

When I moved back to Los Angeles in the early ‘70’s, 39th & Western Avenue was a popular hotspot with Ray’s Café serving up legendary breakfast fare.  Over the years the community changed, and the popularity shifted as blight became the order of the day. As of this writing we have been residents in West Adams for forty-five years. My daughters were born in 1977 and 1982. Despite the blight which redefined the corner, there was a park on the southeast corner. It was nothing more than a large vacant grass lot with some playground equipment. What it also had was smooth concrete pathways. In the late 80’s it was the perfect venue to teach my daughters how to roller-skate.

The 90’s rolled in and in April of 1992 there was the Los Angeles Riots.  In the aftermath leaders were attempting to legitimately engage the community and create something positive from what was a negative reaction following years of neglect.

The exact date escapes me, but it was either 1993 or 1994 and I was operating Professional Realty Mortgage which was a community-based brokerage. At the same time our youngest son, Fred IV was nearing five years old. I heard about this little league being created which would occupy the grass lot on 39th Street. What really drew my attention was the theme of the league would be based on Negro League names. More important the league was to become part of the Little League, Inc. franchise and the first, charged with setting an example so that other leagues could spawn in urban centers across the nation. It was a gesture to create opportunity for youth.

While the venue was being prepared, Harvard Recreation Center was selected as the temporary home location. We met some of the organizers and I agreed to coach my son’s T-Ball squad. Of course, my wife, Judith was also involved and served as assistant coach.

Mark Durrell and members of his family, including professional ballplayer, Art Burke presented a great vision of offering local youth a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only play youth baseball but be part of the prestigious Little League, Inc. organization.   South Los Angeles Martin Luther King, Jr. (SLAMLK) baseball league was born.  They were supported by Eighth District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition to the commitment provided by Little League, Inc., they leveraged the support of Peter O’Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers who appointed Vice President of Community Relations, Tommy Hawkins to serve as liaison to undergird the league.

The excitement of the league demonstrated what could happen with the proper investment and leadership. There were at least 500 youth that first year.  True to form, the team names featured several prominent Negro League teams. They also featured Sammie Haynes who played for the Kansas City Monarchs and was spent his time sharing the legacy of the league. His affiliation allowed the league to feature various players to share their stories with those in the new league. It was quite a site to see the youth and their parents beam at being in their presence.

The promise of creating a dedicated field was like a dream come true. It was going to be like comparing day and night to the traditional open dirt fields offered by local parks. Art Burke took charge of the development and made sure it had the components of a professional field. As an example, since it was a Little League, Inc. franchise there was a scoreboard, grass infield, dugouts symmetrical fencing, a concession stand, announcers’ booth and other amenities that had never been seen, at least not in the ‘hood.

Difference between Park Leagues and Little League, Inc.

Baseball is baseball. I get that but park organized leagues are operated by park/city staff. That is not a terrible thing and while many take pride in their job it simply is much different than the requirements of Little League, Inc.  Most know it through its internationally acclaimed Little League World Series, which is held annually in Williamsport, PA. To get there the road starts at the local level or the District level through its Tournament of Champions series as the winners in respective divsion’s (Minors, Majors, Juniors, etc.) advance. To play in that series teams must be part of a Little League, Inc. franchise. Playing youth park baseball does not reach that height or prestige, although the play is perhaps just as competitive.  Another factor is Little League, Inc. is operated on a 100% volunteer corp. which relies on sponsorship and a concession stand whose revenues provide the league with day-to-day operating capital. The Conrad Hilton Foundation stepped up to provide the core $250,000 funding for the field, thus the name “Conrad Hilton Little League Field,” however there were other organizations who also contributed.

Another critical point is park baseball has access to the many public fields. Little League, Inc. baseball as a private organization using some public space but their fields are owned outright. The experience that SLAMLK was attempting to achieve was putting a Little League field in a public park. It is also worth mentioning youth baseball was already being played at parks within a mile of Conrad Hilton Field, notably Denker Recreation Center and Harvard Park.

The maintenance issues

Even though the city has tremendous resources in maintaining their parks, maintaining a manicured baseball field requires extra focus. While dirt and grass and other components might appear basic, there is a protocol in keeping it groomed so that each game features a fresh look. That is another area where our volunteer corps delivered. From dragging the field, to cleaning up the stands to finely cutting the grass, etc. are necessary steps in maintaining the standard we committed.

Nevertheless, through Ridley-Thomas’ support we were able to bridge a positive relationship with our needs and the city. Again, the experiment of creating a Little League, Inc. venue with the city was worth the sacrifice. SLAMLK was the first and Little League, Inc. committed five additional venues throughout urban cores in the United States (L.A., Houston, Harlem, Florida, etc.). Unfortunately, we assumed the type of support Ridley-Thomas provided would remain constant or assumed from whoever represented the area. Most volunteers accepted the challenge and were willing to make the sacrifice of spending countless hours doing their work if there was the appropriate undergirding. It was a lot of work. We would spend two to three hours per night and at least five to eight hours each Saturday and Sunday to make sure the league could operate.

A bump in the road

Harvard Park was a success and we moved into our cathedral called the Conrad Hilton Little League field in 1996. I forget what exactly happened but if I am not mistaken the 1997 year was postponed to complete some infrastructure.  The parents and players were devastated having to halt play and the feeling of another “dream deferred” settled in. Either way, there was no baseball and local leadership under Durrell became stalled. Professionally he was a Sergeant with the Police Department and had a lot going on, so the league became secondary. As previously stated, a little league field requires ongoing maintenance and before our eyes the jewel became a nightmare. It became unrecognizable as blight settled in. We alerted Mark Ridley-Thomas of the condition and the prospects of losing the momentum the league had built, as well as the reputational damage that “people in the hood” do not take care of investments and run them into the ground.  It was somewhat of an embarrassment considering the major investment so many had made to uplift the community.

The restart

In late 1997 we received a call from Martin Ludlow who had been directed by Ridley-Thomas to reorganize the league, including installing fresh leadership. Ridley-Thomas also made a major step in appointing one of his deputies, Noel Pallis as our liaison to ensure our needs were met as well as developing a positive relationship with Parks and Recreation staff.  He came to our home and laid out his vision while soliciting our support.

In somewhat of a tense environment, he transitioned leadership from Durrell and set a new path for the league. His work ethic was impeccable, and we rallied the community to give us another shot. I elevated from coach to Vice President of Operations and Judith became manager of the Concession stand. In addition to the community, we needed to restore credibility with the sponsors and Little League, Inc. Martin was the face of the organization. He brought in Bruce Saito to handle our finances.  Other board members had various task to generate funding. My task was to handle the day-to-day activities to make sure the operations was smooth including being a direct link in communicating with the parents.

We did not have space at the park to house the equipment to maintain operations.  My residence was approximately 1.5 miles from the field, so Judith and I agreed to house the equipment in one of our garages. I know many would not make this commitment, but Martin was a rare breed and had no shame getting the tractor mower from the garage and driving it south on Western Avenue to the park. Again, this was necessary to keep the grass properly manicured. It is somewhat laughable as of this writing as we did this for approximately six months until we could afford a larger trailer which was placed on site at our field.

Critical to the restart was Ridley-Thomas committing the same type of support her provided to Durrell and his team in starting the league. He conveyed to Little League, Inc. executives his commitment to turning things around.  In turn, they also understood what was at stake. They appointed Tom Boyles who was Western Regional Director and Marcel Van Gerwin who was the Administrator for District 25 to “take us under their wings.”   We were one of seven leagues within the district.

The field was restored to its majestic level gaining positive notoriety throughout the city and throughout District 25.  We elevated Sammie Haynes as a permanent part of our operation. Through his assistant, Marie Goree it was magical to see him come to the park in his wheelchair, with limited vision but willing to share the gifts and tradition of the Negro Leagues.

South Los Angeles Martin Luther King Little League was back in business. Our concession stand was fully operable, our field was in immaculate condition and our announcer’s booth featured youth led by the young Angelo Golden, II.  We developed a cadre of players who gained firsthand knowledge that operating a league required more than just players.    We had pre-game activities as well as post-game activities.   In between innings we featured music which was a delight to the crowd. Another key attribute of our league was getting the community to understand and accept what we were trying to accomplish. Urban lifestyles are full of characters from all levels of society. Most are incredibly positive, but some can be problematic.  Also, because we were using a public park all types of people would congregate. On weekends and near the outskirts of the park impromptu musicians would assemble and play. As you might imagine they would also be consuming their favorite beverage of choice or smoking something which at the time was considered illegal. It must also be mentioned there was a liquor store directly across the street from the park. These types of elements would intimidate those not familiar with urban life. We reached out to those on the periphery to accept the league as part of them. We stressed it was something they could take pride in being a part of. They understood music so I reached out to them asking if they could play the national anthem? Nowhere in Little League circles did you have actual musicians play the anthem. But that was the reality at Conrad Hilton field. It was quite a collaboration and moment of pride for all.

Our district supervisor was so impressed with our progress, he appointed our venue to host the Girl’s Tournament of Championship series. Keep in mind we were the “urban” league and part of the group which included more established or affluent areas such as Beverly Hills, Malibu, West L.A., etc. Our league featured Black and Hispanic players. The other leagues featured White players. The lifestyles were different but that is one of the unique things about sport or in our case; baseball is baseball. Several leagues balked at Marcell appointing our league as host. They were fearful of all the negative urban ills they had grown to accept. A few dismissed the fact our field was more pristine than their own and were not willing to travel south of the I-10 freeway.

Marcell assured them there would be no issues. But in fairness, he was that type of proactive person who saw the good in people versus the bad.  On the other hand, the leagues who agreed to field their team heard about our field as well as the “color” and pageantry we offered, and the way youth participated in announcing the games. For them that was something positive they were willing to sacrifice so their players could experience the joy of what we offered.

I forget the name of the league but there was a game scheduled on Sunday. The opposing team decided to forfeit rather than show up. The manager of the team who fielded his team called me and pleaded if I could dress the field and include all our protocols, specifically having the announcer call the names of the players and coaches so they could assemble on the baseline. He and the families were very appreciative as they understood this was a pinnacle of something the players would never forget.

April 1998

Our field had become extremely popular. We did not realize it at the time it was built but we should have opted for a different configuration to allow for two fields instead of one.  Our divisions included Tee-Ball, Minor, Majors and those over twelve who were Juniors played at Harvard Park.  That again was an oversight of those not familiar with how Little League, Inc. operates. They require additional infrastructure to accommodate those needing a larger field such as Juniors and Seniors. Despite the oversight we were grateful of what we could offer.

I forget the exact day, but I was on the mower cutting the outfield grass and my phone rang. It was the Wall Street Journal who mentioned Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley had provided my number to get some comments as Major League Baseball was commemorating Jackie Robinson breaking the color-barrier. The person on the line wanted to know my thoughts of why there was a sharp decline in Black people playing the game.  I forget my response, but the game had changed with respect to access. Then again, that was one of the reasons Little League, Inc. created the initiative in developing our league. Many in urban communities accepted the fact the National Basketball Association did a better job in marketing the sport to youth. Also, it must be noted it is easier to put up a basketball court than a baseball field. So, youth had options. We were steadfast in our commitment to introducing the game to the new crop of kids flooding into the community.

Martin Ludlow was a trailblazer. He had credibility in organizing but shared the same passion I and others had in taking our league to heights many might only dream about. Through Ridley-Thomas, Ludlow made sure we had the budget and necessary items to successfully operate. On rare occasions some ill-informed parents questioned his motives or deemed him an “outsider.”  I was the day-to-day face of the league and cautioned them not to lose sight of the big picture. Despite what some may have felt, there was no doubt he delivered for the league. We had many discussions. Again, as a political consultant he knew the ins and outs and though that connection was able to leverage support for the league. He eventually decided to step out of the shadows of being the “behind the scenes guru” for politicians and put his name in the hat for an open seat. Thus, he won and was seated as the Councilman in the neighboring Tenth Council district. Due to time restraints he needed to step down but committed to unwavering support to keep the league running. I was elevated to run the league as its president.

Lights shine in the ‘Hood

As the league was nearing the year 2000, we were outgrowing our field. Remember youth are in school during the day. We had to wedge three divisions with multiple teams into one field. Like minds can achieve things some consider impossible. Martin and I played baseball and understood the game as well as operations. Additionally, Dwight James was just as knowledgeable as well as other coaches and supporters. It was determined getting lights on our field was the realistic approach to expand play and accommodate the required schedule. Again, one might think that would have been part of the initial infrastructure but for whatever reason it was not. There was fear of urban issues or being out at night in certain areas of the city? As mentioned, we were operating a Little League franchise at a city owned park and any consideration for obtaining lights would have to come from our resources. Martin went to work and after consulting with Musco lighting was able to secure a $40,000 grant from Fairmont tires. The rest is history and to the chagrin of naysayers who professed kids playing night baseball in South L.A. was too risky, we were set to take the league to the next level.

The ceremony was flawless as on a Sunday night we had the president of Little league, Inc. fly to our field as well as Tommie Hawkins and other supporters to “turn on the light switch.”  The park was packed, and the players delighted those in attendance. Thus, night baseball on 39th & Western was no longer a dream but a reality. Through the years of play there was no negative issues as people who prior to the league opening knew the dangers of venturing out at night, discovered newfound satisfaction and safety.

The $10,000 gift

As mentioned, operating the league always required money. This was more apparent as our quest to keep moving the league higher.  Dressing the infield with the same dirt/clay used at Dodger stadium is not cheap!    In the late ‘90’s the Broadway abruptly left the Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza.  I think it was around 2001 I was doing some work on the field and received a call from a public relations organization indicating our league was the recipient of a $10,000 grant.  I could not believe it as at the time our cash position was very perilous.  I was instructed to come to an office on west Third Street to pick up the check. Anyway, I was told the donation could not be publicly communicated and the donor was Walmart as they were preparing to take over the spot left by the Broadway.

I did not fully grasp it at the time, but Walmart was a political issue in Los Angeles because they were considered non-union.  For me, I did not care as my concern was making sure our players had the necessary equipment and infrastructure to compete.  They wanted to do a press-op at the field and officially vocalize their contribution. It was a nervous time for some in our league leadership as they were pro-union and being seen with Walmart management presented a conflict. We got through it, but everyone understood what was at stake in securing support for the league.

Interestingly after the Walmart grant, we continued to receive support from local businesses, particularly the local Burger King on Western and MLK. Honda had me meet them at the field and unloaded several vans which were full of equipment and gear. During those years we were on the move and on one occasion Little League headquarters arranged for a truck load of equipment to be delivered. The only problem was we did not have the space at the park so it was agreed they would come to me home for delivery.  A large truck drove down Harvard and unloaded gloves, bats, balls, bases….everything you could imagine.  It is no wonder what my neighbors thought was being unloaded in the middle of the street?

The racial dynamic

You would think people appreciate sport as fair play and have the motivation to conduct themselves with integrity. Unfortunately, that is not the reality. We would caution parents who tended to use their kids for their own desires. As great as the sport of baseball is, some youth will profess their most unpleasurable moments were playing the game and being harassed by their parents. Thus, it is not uncommon for some to recant their worse experience in growing up was playing baseball.

Starting a league is tough, especially by Little League, Inc, guidelines. Your recruitment is defined by geographic boundaries. They do make exceptions but that is rare. Once we restarted the league, some saw us as easy prey, especially those with nefarious intentions.

A parent of a player would show up out of no-where claiming to have just moved into the area

Another factor is the league is public and new leagues must play close attention to create fairness. Some adults prey on new leagues and show up with a team already in place. Out league was built on an open draft system to prevent manipulation for teams trying to stack their squads with the best players. Try as one might, you still have issues. There was this coach who was hell-bent on having “an all” Mexican team. We eventually caught on to his hustle and escorted him out of the league. On occasions a coach would show up at the field claiming they were unhappy at their current park league and asked he we would have them? Usually after explaining our commitment to Little League, Inc. regulations which made us different than “park baseball” they would recant and move on. We did make one or two exceptions based on the managers commitment to integrate their team with regular players. In the end it worked out, but it was still remarkable how adults would use youth for their own satisfaction of trying to secure a championship.

In 2001 the league was in good standing. Little League was ready to move to their next commitment in locating a field in South Los Angeles. Wrigley Park was selected and even though as a city run venue youth were playing baseball, it was not the same as official Little League.  Our leadership was charged with nurturing the league as well as demonstrating an example on how to successfully operate. The biggest cultural challenge was getting them to understand our operations was 100% volunteer. They were paid staff and while I am sure they enjoyed developing the youth, it is one thing to get paid to do a job and another to do a job because of the passion you have to participate. The biggest challenge was getting them to understand the nuances, protocols and documentation required. In other words; no hanky-panky would be tolerated just to win a ballgame.

The decline

All good things end, sooner or later.  Ludlow had moved on in his political life. I was with a new company so my time at the park became limited. In 2003 we reached our pinnacle as our Minor League team led by Coach Manny and Coach Frank achieved runner-up status in the district’s coveted Tournament of Champions. It became the pride of South Los Angeles. Ridley-Thomas arranged for the team to be honored during a City Hall meeting. Later in the year Ridley-Thomas was termed out as council member and moved on to State government.  He assured us his replacement would maintain the same commitment he provided. Surprisingly, Bernard Parks was Chief of Police when the league originally started so he knew full well the premise of why the league was created. Interestingly he replaced Ridley-Thomas. We did meet at City Hall with his staff and left with the understanding we would continue to receive support. Unfortunately, that did not happen so operating the league without solid council support was the death knell of our operations. As previously mentioned, the time requirement alone is exhaustive. Some in our organization felt the blow was initiated on purpose as the city could reclaim the field and whatever infrastructure was present and simply rebrand it from Little League, Inc. to park baseball.

Sadly, we acquiesced, and some might label it as abandonment while others might label it as a takeover. Either way, the league came to a streetching halt and the rest is history.

If you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU for taking time to read. It is lengthy due to the complexity and historic nature of the topic.

In addition to those who have been mentioned there were countless parents, coaches, community folk and other who gave their heart in making the dream of Little League, Inc. first urban league a reality. Dwight James, Wayne Kimbrough, and his wife. Angelo Golden, Janet Golden and their two beautiful children. The Randy Robinson family. O.T.. Ramirez, Deon and his brother Marcus, Coach Frank and Coach Manny, Selwyn & Doris Terry, Umpire Mike, Chili, Bill Taylor and his three grandsons and so many more that I cannot remember after all of these years.  It was a great decade, and we were proud to exhibit what could happen when a community supports an initiative.

Hopefully in all that we tried to do, we brought a smile or two along the road and allowed youth and grow up with a positive experience while playing little league baseball.

Jackie Robinson Day 2022 – 75th Anniversary


[Chavez Ravine] Today marks the 75th anniversary that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB). The impact and folklore of Robinson’s achievement is historic.

Robinson’s playing career ended in 1957 and as the team was preparing to locate to Los Angeles he was traded to the Giants. He traded his glove and spikes for white shirts and suits and became the first African-American in corporate America by becoming Vice President at Chock Full of Nuts.

MLB normally accommodates the Dodgers by making sure April 15th is a home game. We will join the throngs at Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium) as they take on the Cincinnati Reds. In addition to the pregame festivities and the thousands who will gather around his statue it will be quite a game to see all players, managers, umpires and field personnel dawn number 42. We remember Jackie!!!!

Postscript

For those lucky to be in attendance it was a memorable pre-game salute. For those who may have missed it the clip below pays homage to Jackie Robinson