Jose Fernandez’s #16 Shirt Awaits its Place of Honor in Cuba

By Vicente Morin Aguado

Watching a program on the antenna in a Havana home.
Watching a program on the antenna in a Havana home.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban media reports on the tragic death of Jose Fernandez were scarce, there were no eulogies which were well deserved given his short but extraordinary career in our national sport. While the government’s media cling onto European soccer, the Marlins’ sacred #16 shirt awaits it’s place of honor in its homeland.

The compensation is on “the antenna”, a pirate system possessed by many ordinary Cubans, focused on facilitating the connection to Spanish-speaking news channels, especially from the US. In fact, thousands of fellow Cubans have followed news coverage of the extended funerals of this star pitcher, whose death in a tragic accident at sea has become a symbol for many Cubans.

Soccer instead of baseball reveals the debate that national government media is having in face of the growing mark Cubans are making in the Major Leagues, the pinnacle of Baseball in the world. Boys grow up here cheering on their idols in a faraway Europe, while they know little about the best players from their homeland, who have been ever so slightly separated from the country that witnessed their birth by a narrow stretch of sea where Jose Fernandez risked his life 10 years ago, even saving his own mother in the process.

The original La Carreta in Havana.
The original La Carreta in Havana.

Curiosities of this sea that unites us and inexplicably separates us, TV broadcasts from Miami showed us places such as La Carreta restaurant, where the disappeared young man from Santa Clara used to regularly go. It just so happens that this “carreta” is a copy of another similar one, originally built in Havana, in the Vedado neighborhood, before the Revolution.

Located on 21st Street, behind Coppelia ice-cream parlor, in front of the Indian Embassy, this old carriage only conserves a wheel from it’s glorious past. The bar still exists, with air-conditioning and certain amenities, where you can eat Ropa Vieja if you’re lucky, which is famous both here and in Miami. The barmaid assures me that “it really was a lucky day because it’s been months since we’ve had beef supplies.”

Seeking out a connection with the sport, different soccer shirts from Europe hang up on a wall, and as was to be expected, there was nothing to do with baseball, the Cuban people’s passion. A customer explained to me:

Kida celebrating a Real Madrid-Barcelona match.
Kida celebrating a Real Madrid-Barcelona match.

“Fans meet up when Cuban TV broadcasts heated games between Madrid and Barca.” – Do you know anything about Jose Fernandez? – “Yes, fortunately a lot of houses are connected up to La Antena, they don’t persecute it so much anymore, it seems that the authorities have got tired or persecuting.”

And so my inevitable question comes up: Would a Marlins #16 shirt fit on this wall? – “I hope so, we’re waiting for it” -, they shout from the other side of the bar. In passing, the friendly cocktail and beer waitress tells me that the shirts hung up were all presents from tourists who had visited the bar, as well as from one Cuban or another who has enough financial solvency so as to let go of something this valuable.

In reality, it’s not expected to ask workers their opinions on a decision that lies outside of their reach. We only have to remember September 13th when the reporter Susana Gomez Bugallo from Juventud Rebelde waited 14 days for a permit to report in Coppelia which she ended up not getting.

Tony Castro greeting Yasiel Puig at Havana airport.
Tony Castro greeting Yasiel Puig at Havana airport.

I can’t even be bothered with these kinds of procedures, I’m satisfied with jotting down what I seen and hear, trying to preserve the historic memory of which this beat-up wagon is also a part of after over half a century of existence. In any case, if a Marlins #16 shirt turns up, we’ll end up in the same position as the journalist, waiting for permits from the bureaucrats who assist the ruling elite.

There’s only one good suggestion left, go directly to Tony Castro, we saw him in Havana airport hugging the Big League player Yasiel Puig. Maybe with the Comandante’s son, we’ll find a place of honor for Jose Fernandez.

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