Beisbol Been Ber-y, Ber-y Good to Me
By Frances O’Cherony Archer
La temporada hasn’t been easy this summer. I’m still a Chicago Cubs fan, haven’t lost my eternal optimism, but this is the first baseball season my father , Domingo O’Cherony, won’t be calling to ask, “A que hora juegan los Cubs?” or “Los Sox juegan esta noche?” or “Did you see last night’s game?”
Before cable, my father had no problem locating the Chicago TV stations that aired baseball games. Cubs were on 9 and Sox on 32. Last summer, however, my 97-year-old Cuban father 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 the baseball game. After nearly 50 years in Chicago, he had made countless friends and they rallied to his side as the end neared. On the days I visited, I’d turn on the TV and 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 listing the information for the following day’s games. The notes disappeared, the staff changed, and when my father pushed too many buttons on the remote, the cable box would get out of sync. Just as the evening game was starting, I’d get a call: “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.
A lifelong baseball fan
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 ’60s and ’70s his medical office was on Clark Street on Chicago’s North Side, in what was a largely Puerto Rican neighborhood. (The building was demolished in the late 1980s and a parking lot—for Cubs games—replaced it.)
During la temporada, my father closed his office at 12:45 p.m. and walked two blocks north to Wrigley Field. Comp tickets usually were waiting for him at the box office. Often, he went to the games with his good friend, Enrique Maroto, a Cuban who had played for the American Negro League in the ’50s. 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. My father told me to remember the day: It was a rare occurrence for the three brothers to be in the same city on the same day.
There’s no other way to tell this story, so pardon me while I name drop. 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.
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 at Tania’s, a now-closed Cuban restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, the closest the city ever came to a Cuban barrio. My father’s acquaintance with Cookie Rojas dated back to Cuba, when Rojas was 10-years-old, they lived in the same Havana apartment building, Edificio America.
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.
Frances O’Cherony Archer is a social media consultant in the Chicago area. She blogs about growing up Jewish and Cuban on the north side of Chicago during the 1960s. Her parents, Domingo and Rosalyn O’Cherony, “met cute” in Havana during the 1940s. Her mother, a Jewish-American citizen, worked as an assistant to the cultural attache at the American Embassy in Havana. One of Rosalyn’s responsibilities was teaching an English class for Cuban professionals and Domingo enrolled in her class. Frances’ parents left Cuba for Chicago in 1956, two months prior to her birth.