The grass was green, not gray, and that surprises Carlos Gutierrez, still.
He walked onto the baseball diamond at RFK Stadium, turned to the dugout, to the men in red. "Incredible."
He looked at the outfield. "All the color," Gutierrez said. "The grass. The shiny helmets."
Baseball was black and white in his mind, in his earliest memories -- watching the flickering game on television at home in Havana. Forty-five years after he had fled the communist revolution, the Cuban American was a Cabinet secretary throwing out the first pitch.
So much in his life had changed since he'd sat with his father, a pineapple canner, while the fans cried -- "Arriba! Dura!" -- too loud for his little ears. Since then he had lived in Miami, New York, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Michigan and Washington, D.C.
"I've moved around so much in life," said Gutierrez, 51, the secretary of commerce. But one thing has been constant: the way he likes to relax. "Baseball has always been there."
At Kellogg Co., where Gutierrez, a college dropout, began by selling cornflakes from the back of a van in Mexico and rose to CEO, he played third base on the company team. He coached his two daughters at T-ball, and drilled his son, a high school first baseman.
On a recent Sunday, he brought his wife and two of his children to see the Nationals. His toss would open the game.
At noon, Gutierrez slid out of a black Suburban, his cologne sweetening the parking lot air. He is a tall man who doesn't stoop, lanky and laid-back despite two triple-shot cappuccinos and two cans of Coke for breakfast. His mustache is lush. A salesman in his blood, quick and charming, he met his wife in a Mexico City elevator.
"I'm trying to figure out if I should throw a curve ball, or a slider," Gutierrez said, running his fingers through his hair.
He warmed up outside the stadium, throwing the ball on a 60-foot strip of grass. Gutierrez has been called one of America's top Hispanic businessmen. The year before he came to Commerce, his compensation was $7.4 million. As chairman of Kellogg, he acquired Keebler Foods Co. for $4.4 billion.
But all he wanted right now was the perfect pitch.
"He was so excited, like, 'gotta practice' all week," said his daughter Karina, 19. She stood next to her brother, Carlos Jr., 25, who was nuzzling a cell phone.
Gutierrez finished his warm-up and popped open another soft drink. "I hope my arm doesn't cool off," he said, as his security guards lurched through the crowd, leading Gutierrez to home plate.
On the field, Gutierrez bantered in Spanish with third baseman Vinny Castilla, who came from the same Mexican state as his wife. He sang the national anthem, cap over his heart. He has been a Yankees fan, then Blue Jays, then Tigers and now Nationals.
"Sir," said his aide, handing him the baseball.
His wife, Edilia, kissed him.
Gutierrez took a step toward the pitcher's mound. Sweat dotted his red Nationals jersey, darkening drops. He stopped. "You know what? I changed my mind."
He started to turn away, toward home plate, when his daughter put her arms around him. Karina whispered, "Y.T.B."
Usually, he's the one whispering it to her, encouraging her before her dance recitals: "You're the best."
Gutierrez walked to the mound, wound up and threw the ball. He swept off the field with his entourage, beaming like a little leaguer.
"Ball had a little bit of movement on it," he said, pleased.
"Nice form, sir," said his guard.
Carlos Jr. broke away from his cell phone: "It was high."
Up in the bleachers, Gutierrez settled next to his wife. He surveyed the field. "In Cuba, this is the national sport," he said. He calls himself the family historian. He cherishes 50 photographs of their life in Cuba. Then there are the pictures he stores in his mind. When they fled, he was 6 years old. "At that age, you remember snapshots," Gutierrez said.
Snapshot: The door banging. Men in olive green uniforms and beards. Guns. A commotion and my father taken away. He's an enemy of the revolution. We don't see him for days."Before we knew it, we were on a plane," Gutierrez said.
Snapshot: May 1960, a hotel, Miami. My father has a job parking cars. A bellhop in the lobby, an older gentleman, teaches me English. He puts a rubber band in front of me, and says "rubber band." I thought we'd go back. I thought we'd be home by Christmas.
"It was all very confusing," Gutierrez said.
Snapshot: We move around a lot. My father tries different jobs. In Mexico, I sold cornflakes, one box at a time. Six boxes was a lot. I'd drive and drive and drive. On the road for three or four months.
Gutierrez worked for Kellogg for 30 years. The company relocated him often. Nothing lasted. But wherever he went in the world, there was Kellogg, in 180 countries. He jokes with people who ask if he feels more like a Latino or an American, that he's neither. He is a Kellogg.
Even now that he's a Cabinet secretary, on weekends, he likes to go to Safeway and visit the Kellogg's displays.
Every few months he changes the cereal he eats. "The last phase was raisin bran," Gutierrez said. Now he's on to cornflakes , two bowls at breakfast.
"We have cornflakes in the night, too," Edilia said, with a smile.
"Eating cereal is a relaxing physical exercise," he said. "You don't have to think."
At 11 p.m., when he's done with paperwork from Commerce, they take out the cereal, douse it with milk and turn on the television.
It takes him back to Havana, watching baseball with his father. But the television is color. His father is dead. He is living in an apartment at the Ritz-Carlton.
"I use a teaspoon," Gutierrez said, to eat the cornflakes. "It makes it last longer."
Off Camera is a new monthly column featuring Washington's top decision makers in their off-hours -- outside the office and inside their lives.