The historical interaction between baseball, Cuba, and Tampa is long and distinguished. According to one version of the story, soldiers stationed at Tampa’s Fort Brooke brought baseball to Cuba during the Spanish-American War and the US occupation of the island. (Other stories have baseball in Cuba approximately 30 years earlier.)
According to the book Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball by Adrian Burgos, there were baseball fields in Ybor City as early as 1886, as Cuban cigar factory workers played the new pastime in their spare time. It was also in Ybor City that future Negro League team owner Alex Pompez got his first taste of baseball.
Over 100 years later, baseball remains popular for Cuban-American segment of Tampa. In 2013, Cuba’s Industriales baseball veterans, a Havana team, traveled to Tampa for an exhibition game at Alonso High School. In January of 2014, the University of Tampa baseball team returned the favor and played four exhibition games in Havana.
The reason for this overview is the most recent news involving Cuba, baseball, and Tampa. According to the Tampa Tribune, veteran Cuban national team member and coach Antonio Pecheco has relocated from Cuba via Canada to the Tampa area. Already, Pecheco has been recognized and celebrated in Tampa’s Cuban-American community.
Pecheco’s baseball career is impressive. He is a two-time gold medal winner (1992, 1996) and won a silver medal once as a player (2000) and once as a coach (2008). In 22 seasons in the Cuban baseball leagues, he hit 284 homeruns and hit .334 in 1853 games.
Currently, Pecheco is getting on his feet in Tampa. According to the Tampa Tribune, he would like to work in baseball at some level.
Even if he doesn’t land a full time baseball job, Pecheco is an attraction to Tampa’s Cuban-American community. As an Olympic medal winner, the Rays could invite him to Tropicana Field and perhaps have him throw out a first pitch. He could also be the focus of a “Cuban Heritage Night”. Oddly, I don’t see a “Cuban Heritage Night” anywhere on the Rays 2014 “special night” schedule.
If the Rays don’t invite Pecheco to Tropicana Field, the Tampa Yankees should definitely seize the opportunity, as they are the closest team to Ybor City and the Cuban-American community. At worst, the Tampa Baseball Museum could involve Pecheco in rallying the community to support the museum.
The arrival of Antonio Pecheco to Tampa presents several interesting options for baseball teams in Tampa. There is no doubt Pecheco knows the game and has been successful at some of the highest levels of competition in the world. Baseball organizations would be wise to utilize Pecheco’s knowledge, experience, and popularity either in the dugout on in the stands.