In an artful pastiche of observation, personal narrative, interviews, and investigative reporting, S.L. Price, a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated, describes sports and athletes in today's Cuba. On his many journeys to the island, Price finds a country that celebrates sports like no other and a leader who uses athletics as both symbol and weapon in his country's dying revolution.
With Castro's regime staggering beneath the weight of a great depression and international sanctions, Cuba's famed sports machine is imploding. Athletes are defecting by plane and raft. Superstars bike to games and train with shoddy equipment in bare gyms; and champion boxers, baseball players, and gymnasts are forced to scrounge for spare change on the streets. In 1959, when Castro rose to power, he declared a new era in Cuban baseball. Within four years all professional Cuban sports had been outlawed, and Castro condemned as traitors those athletes who defected to the United States in search of product endorsements and six-figure salaries.
In interviews with Teofilo Stevenson, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, and Ana Quirot, S.L. Price unearths the truth about sports in Cuba and explores the complex reasons that drive athletes of promise to flee their homeland. Beyond an examination of sports in the hothouse of revolution, Pitching Around Fidel presents a vibrant and realistic portrait of Cuba today, complete with sex-happy toursits, blackouts, Fidel's famous former lover, and Charles Hill, a black nationalist fugitive wanted in the United States for murder and hijacking. At once a biting travelogue and a meditation on sports in both America and Cuba, Pitching Around Fidel is a valuable document about a time and a place that are close to fading away.
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At the core of Cuban sports is an enigma that Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price captures in two sentences. The first part of it "holds that the great Cuban sports machine--instrument of totalitarian control and propaganda--is rightfully cracking apart. The second holds that Castro's regime not only has produced an unparalleled athletic system, but has also fostered a sports purist's delight, an American ideal, no less, for Cuba is one of the last places where athletes play for little more than love of the game." How is that possible? Pitching Around Fidel smartly aligns the contradictions. It's a provocative and penetrating look at the most fascinating and rabid sports culture on the planet, why sports in Cuba works, why it doesn't, and how its marvelous and gifted athletes are torn between the loyalties of home and the whiff of money 90 miles across the sea.
Cuban athletes have been put on a pedestal since Castro took power, and their achievements on the international stage have swelled the national chest and been interpreted as triumphs over capitalism. Yet as conditions on the embargoed island deteriorate, athletes who complain are banished to oblivion, while others--think Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez of the Yankees and Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez--flee for freedom and cash. Price's reportage on how freedom and money have changed many of the exiles, Ordonez most notably, is stunning. And still, despite rundown facilities and repatched equipment, Cuba keeps turning out remarkable athletes and loyal fans.
Examining the state of sports on the island, Price is in effect examining the state itself, and his own relationship to sports--and the big money of American sports--in the process. While the portrait he paints is not pretty, it is fascinating. There's much poignance in the joy that emanates from Cuba's playing fields, the passion in the stands, and the shabbiness Price observes in the appearance of the great Teofilo Stevenson--the multi-Olympic heavyweight champion and the island's reigning sports icon. Not even an icon can override the revolution's contradictions. --Jeff SilvermanAbout the Author:
S. L. Price, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated since 1994, has been called a “Master of the New Journalism” by the New York Times. An award-winning former columnist and feature writer at the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee, he is also the author of Far Afield, which Esquire named one of the five best books of 2007, and Heart of the Game, which was named the #1 baseball book of 2009 by Baseball America.
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Book Description Ecco, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0060196602
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