A senior writer at Sports Illustrated presents an impressionistic analysis of the primacy of sports in Cuban culture.
In a volume that is as much cultural anthropology as sports writing, Price examines a Cuba that remains obsessed with the considerable achievements of its principal athletes despite pervasive poverty and increasing numbers of defectors who flee to the US in search of riches. Price visited the island many times and here assembles a pleasant patchwork that adheres only incidentally to chronology. Beginning with the March 1998 signing by the New York Yankees of Cuban phenom Orlando `El Duque` Hernandez (`the best pitcher in modern Cuban history`), Price then moves back and forth in time, attempting to discover why Cuba remains `one of the last places where athletes play for little more than love of the game.` Along the way he manages to interview some of Cuba’s greatest athletic heroes, including former Olympic standouts Teofilo Stevenson (boxing) and Alberto Juantorena (track), and baseball greats Lazaro Valle (a talented pitcher on the downside of his career) and Jose Ramon Cabrera (a first baseman who fell from grace in a Black Sox-like scandal). Among the most touching episodes are Price’s encounters with the Olympic middle-distance runner Ana Quirot, who, though disfigured in a kitchen fire in 1993, returned to win a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics. She has become such an inspiration to Cubans than some fans merely `touch her shoulders and start to cry.` But these are not traditional Q&A interviews. Price encounters athletes in the streets, meets them in restaurants, goes to their homes, bar-hops across Havana with them. He also explodes the persistent canard that Castro was a talented pitcher.
In lyrical and immediate prose (he employs the present tense throughout) Price describes a lovely, proud, impoverished people caught in repressive system that destroys thousands as it celebrates a handful.