Play ball, America, in Chicago!

Rick Telander in S-T notes that this is the first post-steroids series, hence full of speed (of legs), smarts, strategy.   “Baseball with brains, not just brawn,” sez USA Today.  And hence much more interesting, sez I.

As for smarts, Mike Downey in Chi Trib offers a seven-game scenario with AJ Perzynski running home with the ball hidden in his shirt.  It could happen!

AND as for the doughty defectors from the Island Prison, Sox pitchers Contreras and Hernandez, Chi Trib runs a p-1 story from its man in Havana, Gary Marx, about whom usually (and why not now?) the less said the better.  Kudos to Trib for featuring the defectors, however, though not as punchily as National Review Online with such details as this:

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Jose Contreras . . . risked their lives to escape. . . .  Hernandez, the winningest pitcher in "revolutionary" Cuba's history, was a national hero in the early 1990s, but nine years after his 1986 debut he was banned from baseball. His crime was helping his half-brother Livan defect. Livan went on to become the MVP of the 1997 World Series, during which he embarrassed Fidel by shouting, "I love Miami" — in English.  . . . . . . . .  It would be as if President Clinton had banned Michael Jordan from basketball during his prime.

After Livan got out, in a show trial of an American who had helped him do so, Orlando crossed Castro up and called the guy his “companero.”  A year later, Orlando, his wife, and six others were found on a cay in the Bahamas eating conch to survive.  The Coast Guard picked them up after four days, and that fall, Orlando was winning Game 2 for the Yankees.  If he hadn’t defected, “he would have died another obscure Cuban pitcher, virtually unknown outside Castro's fortress.”

That’s language you don’t expect in a daily newspaper, where (a) politics and baseball steer clear of each other and (b) political commentary steers clear of outright condemnation of Fidel.

Contreras didn’t eat conch on a cay, but his wife was arrested after he defected from Mexico.  Missing her and their two daughters, he slumped with the Yankees.  Told by Castro she’d have to wait five years to get out, she and their daughters last year joined a boatload of Cubans who made it to Florida.  Contreras, no longer slumping, is one of the Sox Four, reading to start tonight vs. his former teammate at the Yankees, Roger Clemens.

Play ball.

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