The old Washington Senator pitcher took a drag on his black cigar and looked down at the tips of his bowling shoes.
"To Mickey Mantle, you must keep the hard slider inside and up," said 66-year-old Connie Marrero as though both he and Mantle were about to meet once more in Yankee stadium.
Marrero jammed the cigar in his mouth and imitated mantle's compact stance. "Too many muscles in the arms and shoulders," said Marrero, demonstrating how Mantle's swing often swept underneath Marrero's nasti slider.
"That's left-handed," said Marrero, holding up his stogie between two fingers as his young Matanzas pitchers listened with eyes wide. "If you throw him that pitch when he bats right-handed, he will hit it on the roof.
"Curves low and away right-handed," said the shrunken, white-haired man, snapping his meat hook of a right hand with its cigar-thick fingers in the curve ball motion.
Marrero's eyes snapped like his fingers. "I always had the good luck with Mantle. But Ted Williams . . ." he shook his head. "When you talk of Williams, you must stop the conversation." The Matanzas players - infants when Williams retired - nodded in agreement.
"The first time I pitched to Williams in 1950," said Marrero, flying back half a life-time in a blink, "he fouled off two sliders and I struck him out on a knuckleball."
Marrero grinned. "Theodore hates the knuckleball . . . and the slider. But he learned to hit them, anyway.
"In Boston, he hit two home runs off me in one game. One slider. One knuckleball. After the game, he put his arm around me under the stands and said, 'This was my day.'"
"I told Williams," said Marrero, "every day is your day."
This is the way Cubans talk about the game they love far more than any other - with patiently told tales and infinite detail. This sadly, is the way they can no longer talk about the Great Leagues, as they call the majors.
"We have little information," said Marrero, pitching coach for Matanzas, with a resigned air. "How is my friend Bucky Harris?" he asked of his manager for all five Washington seasons.
"He is dead," Marrero is told.
"Si, si," said Marrero. He expected as much. Like most Cuba baseball lovers, Marrero has cut "North America" out of his heart so that it cannot haunt or hurt him.
But the old stories, all antedating the 1959 revolution, he will not give up. Young Cuban players can see Mantle and Williams and Willie Mays in their sleep. The older generation has passed down its lore, their idiosyncracies, even their batting weaknesses.
After all, this nation worships subtedly in its baseball. Marrero was once given a standing ovation for his windup. The crowd was on its feet cheering Marrero's head-bobbing gyrations before he ever released the pitch.
"That's true, that's true," said Marrero. "It is easy to teach the curve, impossible to teach brains. I still pitch batting practice and fool them. I smoke these cigars," he said, "to keep my arm young."
Cuba has two distinct baseball generations: that which remembers and that which does not. It is easier for the youngsters, the first-generation revolutionaries, who can say with the conviction of lifelong acculturation, "We have no interest to play in the Great Leagues or to know more of them. We love it."
But for those over 40, the words and the facial expressins that go with them are more ambivalent. The tug of the Great Leagues is still there.
"This was a good time of day for me," remembered Marrero, standing in Matanzas Stadium at dusk. "I would stand in the tunnel behind the plate where they would not notice me and watch the Yankee take batting pratice.
"If you watch long enough, suddenly it comes to you . . . the pitch they do not like, the sequence that will deceive them, the pitch they love to swing at but do not hit well."
"I have lived two lives," said Andres (Papo) Liano, called "The Torpedo" a decade ago when he had the best record in Cuba (13-2), including a no-hitter. "One before the revolution and one after."
In that first, Liano lived for baseball, even working his way up to an expense-paid visit to the States to try out for the Giants.
Those were free and easy days. "The great hitter, Don Miguel Cuevas, kept a notebook on every pitcher in Cuba. He wrote down every pitch he ever saw," said the gentle Torpedo. "So one day the pitchers stole his book and it was passed all over the country until every pitcher had read what Cuevas had said of him.
"It did not help at all. Cuevas knew everything about us, but had written down nothing whatsoever about himsself."
Now, in his second life, Liano is assocciate director of the 2,000-student Sports Academy in Havana, the institute that is to be a model for sports schools in all 14 Cuban provinces.
"We grew up swimming in a muddy hole and playing baseball with sticks and rocks," said Liano, looking at the enormous new institute for which he is the No. 2 man, with 169 coaches teaching 25 sports. "No one could ever have imagined this . . . a school where talented children come when they are 8 years old and stay until university."
Lazaro Perez was the first great Cuban player to reach his peak just as the northward flow of Cuban baseball players was cut off by Fidel Castro after the Bay of Pigs.
Perez, now 40, has caught every game for the Cuban national team since 1963. That squad has not lost in the prestigious Pan-Am games since 1967. Of all Cuba's players, Perez is known for his inspirational play away from Cuban soil.
"It is better," Perez said, "to have the enemy right there in front of you. it is hard to drive yourself to the fullest against your countrymen. Yes, I am what you call a "clutch hitter."
The measure of Perez' tangled fascination and antipathy for the Great Leagues is his fierce desire for one exhibition against the Norteamericanos before he retires.
"I have never wanted to sell myself for money," he said proudly. "But I have waited for years to play against the professionals."
Perez touches a tuft of white hair that has sprung up on his forehead like a spot marking a thoroughbred horse. "The fast balls of the years have done this," he said."I don't think there is much of me left. At last, I am feeling old.
"But for one game against the Yankees," he said, not distinguishing if that is a team or a nation, "I might still be young."
The Cubans who migrated toward the Yankee dollar right after the revolution are viewed with a mixture of wry contempt and not entirely openhanded forgiveness.
"Dagoberto Campaneris and Rigoberto Fuentes were the last two," said Juan Ealo, the legendary former Cuban manager, using those players' full names, not the Americanized "Campy" and "Tito."
"We were playing in Costa Rica on the day of the Bay of Pigs attack (Cubans call it 'Victory of Grion') and American scouts offered three players contracts," said Ealo.
"Both Campaneris and Fuentes were young, second-string players. They knew no better and they left.
"But our best pitcher, Joe Mitchell Pineda, understood that you do not sign yourself away to a country at the very instant when they are invading your homeland."
Ealo apused in a story that may or may not be embellished at the edges. "I still have Pineda's unsigned contract frame on my wall at home."
Both Campaneris and Fuentes have returned to Cuba in recent, more relaxed, years to visit their families.
"I spoke to Fuentes on the phone before he returned," chuckled Manuel Gonzales, head of the international amateur baseball governing body, IBA, "I told him, 'I understand that since you have gone to America you now wear eight rings on your fingers and have your hair in braids.
"If you return to Cuba with your rings and braids, your father will choke you."
Gonzales munched on his cigar. "Fuentes returned with his hair cut and no jewelry. it was a wise decision."
It is a point of honor in Cuba to show a lack of interest in the Great Leagues. Nevertheless, Cuban knowledge of American players is enormous when it is considered that virtually all information is by word of mouth since neither Cuban TV, radio nor the official newspaper, Granma, carries a word about the majors.
Reggie Jackson's home runs, Nolan Ryan's strikeouts, Joe Morgan's multiple gifts are all familiar knowledge, although the names are all given hallucinatory Spanish pronunciations. Burt Hooton becomes Bob Houston and Joe DiMaggio can become absolutely anyting.
"You see, we are kept well informed," said Cuban sports reporter Jose Luis Salmeron, recounting Jackson's three home runs.
But the U.S. baseball information is only skin deep, even with the most passionate fans. Bruce Sutter and his "new pitch, the split-finger fast ball, fascinate the manager of the Cuban national teams. "We must find out about this new weapon," he said. "Are the American hitters plotting to murder him?"
Perhaps the unsurpassable symbol of the love-hate relationship that Cuba's over-40 fans feel toward the Great Leagues is a nervous, wizened gentleman named Edel Casas.
Casas is seen as one in an endless series of proofs that Cuban socialism can overcome any obstacle in one-upping NOrth American. Edel Casas is Cuban's one-man library on baseball history - American or Cuban.
No American trivia expert could surpass Casas on the Genuinely trival. He knows the date of every well-known American baseball happening from Johnny Vandeer Meer's no-hitters to how many thirds of an inning Walter Johnson pitched in the World Series of 1924 and 1925.
Each day, he studies the Agence France-Presse reports so he can stay current. "Ask Campanera (comrade) Casas anything," smiled Cito Perez, director of sports propaganda.
The human library blinked and smiled. "Ah, Washington," Casas said. "Only one world championship." And he is off and running, reciting events before his birth.
At last, Walter Johnson has won on Earl McNeely's hit. Casas stops his recitation.
"Wonderful, wonderful," everyone tells him.
"McNeely's bad-hop hit struck a famous pebble," Casas is told. "Washingtonians say they would bronze that pebble if anyone had been able to find it. Was that pebble in front of first, second of third base?"
Casas seems justifiably hurt by such a sneaky, such trivial question. "Second base," he says, tentatively. And, of course, incorrectly.
"Marvelous," he is told. "That's right."
The little middle-aged man relaxes. his performance can not tripped him up in front of his superiors.
"I want very much for the United States and Cuba to have an exchange of games," he says.
"You see, I have never seen an American Great League game with my own eyes."
Next: The New Breed