Baseball’s Been Bery Bery Good to Me

tv

I am dreading Opening Day. I haven’t lost my eternal optimism but this will be the first baseball season my father won’t be calling me to ask,  “What time are the Cubs playing?” or “Are the Sox playing tonight?” or “What station for the Cubs game?” or  “Did you see last night’s game?”

Before cable, my father had no problem finding baseball games on TV. Cubs were on 9 and Sox on 32. Last summer, however, he was in a nursing home, at first confined to a wheelchair and later to bed, unable to use the remote control except for the power on and off button. Setting the TV to the right channel for, say, an American League afternoon game and switching channels for a National League evening game became logistically impossible.

We did our best. Most days someone was visiting him and would turn on the TV for one of the daily games. When I visited him for lunch, served at 11:30 a.m., I’d set the channel for the afternoon game. I’d leave written instructions, listing time and channel for the evening game, in hopes the staff or whomever might visit later in the evening would read the note and change the channel.

If I visited my father in the evening, I would write a note detailing the following day’s games. The notes always disappeared, the staff was always changing, and when my father pushed too many buttons on the remote, or the wrong ones, the remote and cable box would get out of sync. I’d get a call, just as the evening game was starting: “Call the cable company. The TV is broken.”

I couldn’t ease his suffering, but at least I could make sure my father never missed a televised Cubs or Sox game. Two games a day went far towards alleviating his boredom, compensating for time I couldn’t spend with him. I should mention that when I was visiting him, he sometimes nodded off. But in the event he was alone and awake, I was determined the TV would be set to the right channel.

For as long as I can remember, baseball was an important part of my father’s life. During the season, my father scheduled his office hours around games. He was a pediatrician and in the sixties and seventies his medical office was at 3355 North Clark Street, near the corner of Roscoe, under the L tracks. (The building was demolished in the late 1980s and a parking lot—for Cubs games—replaced it.)

He’d close the office at 12:45 p.m. and walk two blocks north to Wrigley Field. A couple of comp tickets usually were waiting for him at the box office. Often my father went to the games with his good friend, Enrique Maroto, a Cuban who had played for the American Negro League in the fifties. Whether or not the game was over, my father left at 3:30 p.m. to reopen his office for the afternoon and early evening.

My father knew many Latin ballplayers. There were autographed baseballs lying around our house like popcorn on a movie theatre floor. Don’t ask–there are none left. My father gave them away. He’d say to visiting friends, “What team you want? Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Yankees, St. Louis?”

Part of my father’s daily routine was a stop or two at a Cuban storefront restaurant called Liborio. It was on Broadway just north of Irving Park, not at all far from his office and Wrigley Field. On game days Latin ballplayers from both the Cubs and the away team took up several tables. Once I met my father at Liborio for lunch and we sat a table with the three Alou brothers—Matty, Felipe and Jesus. It was a rare occurrence for all three to be in the same city on the same day.

Cardenal

There’s no other way to tell this story, so pardon me while I name drop. Believe me, it won’t happen often. I remember the afternoon I first met Bert Campaneris, probably in 1973. I found him sitting in the waiting area of my father’s office, talking to a crowd of patients. Campaneris’s cousin Jose Cardenal also visited my father’s office, sometimes to wait out the rush hour traffic following a game. Cardenal’s daughter, Bridget, and I were friends. I went to several games with her—seats in the wives section, right behind third base–and she came to my high school graduation in 1974. We saw the Cardenal family during the off-season for weekend brunches and even went snowmobiling together on someone’s property near Twin Lakes.

Jorge Orta and his father, Pedro Orta, who was also a ballplayer, visited our house on several occasions. Minnie Minoso and Cardenal attended my father’s 80th birthday party. My father’s acquaintance with Cookie Rojas dated back to Cuba, when Rojas was ten years old, and they lived in the same Havana apartment building.

Havanaapartmentbuilding

(c) Ecobio. In the early 1950s, my parents lived on the top floor and Cookie Rojas lived on the ground floor of this Havana apartment building in the Vedado neighborhood.

Several years ago I found a photograph taken at Ditka’s of my father and Cookie Rojas in the online edition of Nation’s  Restaurant News. Unfortunately, the photo has been removed but the article and text of the photo caption remain online:

Photo: Ditka’s manager Ed Minasian, standing left, and general manager Jim Rittenberg welcome restaurant visitors, seated from left, Dr. Domingo O’Cherony, team doctor for the California Angels baseball team; Frank de Lama, Angeles team trainer, and Cookie Rojas, Angels manager.

So, my father wasn’t the California Angels team doctor. Boys will be boys.

atMurphysrooftop

My father (left center) and me (right center) at a pregame party at Murphy’s Rooftop, circa 1985. Wrigley Field grandstand in the upper right corner.

Sources: “Sports Themers Score Big,” Nation’s Restaurant News, May 16, 1988.

Photo credit: I found a photograph on Google Earth of the Havana apartment building where my parents, and the family of Cookie Rojas, lived. I have no way of contacting the photographer for permission, but here is the site where I found it.

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20 Responses to Baseball’s Been Bery Bery Good to Me

  1. Marshall Rosenthal March 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Another swell story, even this baseball innocent can appreciate!

  2. Sheila Linderman March 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Frances, this post gave me the chills. I absolutely loved it!

  3. Dave March 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    I’m a life long Sox fan from the 1950s. I’m totally jealous that you’ve had Minnie Minoso Jorge Orta in your home.

  4. MF March 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Fathers and baseball…and step dads and football. I had been wondering why i haven’t been as drawn to sports the past couple years…some of it is just so hard to think about! I am still back & forth to FL but we have got to get together. Thanks for such a fun piece!

  5. frances728 March 23, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for visiting, Michelle. Why don’t we go to a game this summer?

  6. frances728 March 23, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Those were fun times, and I miss them.

  7. frances728 March 23, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks Sheila. I’m always glad to hear from you.

  8. frances728 March 23, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    I can’t believe you’re a baseball innocent!

  9. Brule Laker April 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Wonderful article, Francis. I’m old enough to have watched Cuban baseball on Saturday night TV in the late 1950s. And one of my father’s fraternity brothers, Murray Franklin, played in Cuba with Minoso, Sandy Consuegra and Luis Tiant Sr. during the late 1940s.

  10. frances728 April 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Thanks, good to hear from you. Despite what I wrote, I am beginning to look forward to Opening Day.

  11. jennifer April 5, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    This is great, Frances! I’m forwarding it to my husband – a lifelong Cubs fan. Too bad they’re in the process of being pounded today;-)

  12. Jesus Maria Alvarez June 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    Frances, Thanks for sharing this with me! I’m so sorry about your loss…

    We seem to have a lot in common although I could never match your good fortune in growing up around all of these players. If I’m ever in Chicago, we should have some rice and beans at Liborio — if it’s still there — and talk about our dads and baseball (or the next time you’re in NY!)

    Thanks again and take good care!

  13. Frances June 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    Jesus, Liborio is long gone. I will have to write about it one of these days. Yes, let’s stay in touch.

  14. Dornora Bass July 14, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Great story. It brought back memories since I spent my team years iat Wrigley Field in the 70″s. Ron Santo let me and a friend into my first baseball game and I was able to meet my idol Jose Cardenal and take pictures with many Cubs in 1973.I wrangled comp tickets from 1973 to 1977 when I went off to college mostly from the Latin players (visiting teams) and Jose and Vic Harris on the Cubs. I sat in the family section many, many times.I used to see Brigdet at the game with Pat occasionally.

    I haven’t spoken to Jose since the early 80″s. Do you know where he is now? I see no news after he left the Nationals in October. I would love to re-establish contact to catch up.

  15. Frances Archer July 14, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Thanks for visiting! This season continues to be tough for me, as well as the Cubs. I keep missing those daily conversations about “la pelota” as my father called it. Jpse stayed in touch with my father all these years but the last time I saw him was at my father’s 80th birthday party, which we celebrated at Tania’s 18 years ago. Both Minoso and Cardenal attended and they had a running mock rivalry going on through the whole dinner, kept us in stitches. But no I don’t have any information of where he is now.

  16. Cristina July 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    It was great reading your memories…. Thank you for sharing you beautiful story about your father. Baseball is important to so many people in America & for Cubans! I am the great-niece of the owner of the formar Liborio on Brodway. I am delighted to read that my families cooking is still being mentioned in stories today. El Liborio on Brodway closed in the early 70’s when my family relocated to Miami and opened another restaurant on Calle Ocho. My family is no longer in the restaurant business, but have always cooked with lots of love! My Tia Cora always told me great stories about El Liborio and the wonderful people she cooked for and met while in Chicago.

  17. Frances Archer July 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Cristina, I believe my mother told me Amador called when my father passed away last year. I am fairly certain my father spent more time at Liborio over the years than any other customer. When we didn’t know how to reach him, back in the day before cell phones, we simply called Liborio to find out where he was.

    My first memory of Liborio goes back to when I was five or so, in the early sixties. There was never a Cuban neighborhood in Chicago, but Liborio was two doors away from the Cuban grocery store Miavana, so those two businesses constituted a Cuban neighborhood for us.

    When we went to Liborio as a family, my father would spend more time walking from table to table than sitting with us. On the other hand, I loved to lean up against the refrigerated display case and stare with longing at the brazos gitanos, a dessert as you know. Carlitos, who ended up owning the restaurant after your family, has also stayed in touch all these years. Liborio was truly a home away from home for my father and we have so many fond memories of the place. I will write more about this wonderful place in the future.

  18. Ellen Chernoff October 13, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Hi Frances,
    Being a “die hard” Cubs fan, I can’t wait until opening day. I remember listening to the games on my Dad’s car radio, good old WGN. All I can say is Thank God for satellite TV so I never miss a game. And being a “true” Cubs fan, win or lose….I love them anyway. I really love your stories about Chicago!

  19. Marv December 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Frances,
    Just a heads up- WTTW has tonight ( 12/11/12) broadcast a Minnie MInoso documentary detailing his amazing story. The program will likely be available via ON Demand.

  20. Carol Barstow November 2, 2016 at 7:30 am #

    What a wonderful blog post! I’m sure you’ve been thinking about your Dad a lot during this exciting World Series (as I’ve been thinking about my Dad who grew up on Waveland Ave with parents who had courted in the bleachers). I still remember my family with our noses excitedly pressed up against our front windows watching Jose Cardenal walking up the steps to your house! It was fun to have celebrities visiting our little block of Central Park Ave.!!

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