“Janie, come on, get up!” she said shaking me roughly out of a lazy Saturday morning reverie. Blinking sleepy eyes, I groaned in short-lived protest and then rolled out of bed. The gruff intruder on this humid summer morning was not my mother, or one of my siblings. It was the local park director, Mochine Fernandez (pronounced “Mo-cheen”), rousing me and my two sisters to play a softball game.
I remind myself of the day by glancing at the Tampa Morning Tribune. It is October 19, 1912. I am looking for news to tell the workers today when I climb up to the tribunal above the factory floor to begin my workday. I am el lector–the reader.
Wnston Churchill liked the mild Optimo cigar manufactured by A. Santaella Cigars and so did Babe Ruth. Tampa was one of “The Babe’s” favorite places to visit–he had made his mark here on April 4, 1919, in a pre-season game the Boston Red Sox played against the New York Giants.
If Ybor City’s backbone was its cigar factories, Cuscaden Park was its heart. The park still exists today, though a faint shadow of its former self.
While most people recognize the names Tampa Smokers, Tampa Tarpons, and of course, Tampa Bay Rays, few can recall the names of Tampa’s professional and semi-professional African American teams.
Forty-three years ago, John Cuesta accomplished a first in the storied history of Tampa Bay baseball. He and his West Tampa All Stars won the Senior Little League World Series, defeating Throgs Neck, a team from the Bronx, New York, in two straight games.
The outpouring of emotion on February 25, 1947 was indicative of Cuba’s passion for baseball, a passion matched only in the United States. After all, the Professional Baseball League of Cuba began in 1878 and played its final game in 1961.
Baseball’s popularity in Tampa certainly was also helped along by a growing Cuban population, which came to work in the area’s booming cigar industry of the late 1800s and early 1900s.