"The saddest part of this was to apologize to Felo Ramirez." – Ozzie Guillen
MIAMI, Fla. – It's safe to say there is no one in sports who knows the evil of Fidel Castro and the wonder of baseball more than Felo Ramirez. He was born in Cuba in 1921 and fell in love with the sport as a young boy. He began broadcasting games at 22 and saw some of the best to ever play for his country. He firmly believes a major league team would have taken root in Havana instead of Montreal if it wasn't for Castro, and he would have been that team's voice.
But instead, Communism took hold, and Ramirez fled Cuba in 1962. He nearly lost his life in the process – twice. He did lose his parents, who were too old to join him. He only saw them once more before they passed away.
But Ramirez's love for the game – and his broadcasting career – survived. It eventually brought him to the United States, where he has called countless games for fans in several Spanish-speaking countries. Since 1993, Ramirez has been the Spanish voice of the Miami (Florida) Marlins. His broadcast booth is named after him. It was dedicated April 4 – three days before it was revealed that Ozzie Guillen had told Time Magazine, "I love Fidel Castro."
Friday, for the first time since Guillen's comments became public, Ramirez went to his office at Marlins Ballpark.
"It was not a pleasant comment to hear," Ramirez told Yahoo! Sports through an interpreter. "I thought, 'Is that really the way he is? Or was it just something that came out?' "
Ramirez is as much of a baseball treasure as Vin Scully or Ernie Harwell. He called Don Larsen's perfect game, Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit and Hank Aaron's 715th home run. He remembers Martin Dihigo, the Cuban superstar who out-dueled Satchel Paige in an exhibition and played all nine positions.
"In the majors, he would have won 20 games every year easily," Ramirez said of Dihigo.
But the broadcaster's journey is even more impressive than his résumé. He left Cuba for Venezuela, then Puerto Rico, then Mexico, and finally the U.S. – calling games all the way. It was anything but easy. When Dennis Martinez pitched his first game in the majors in 1976, Ramirez was asked to call the game from Fenway Park for a Nicaraguan audience. But he wasn't able to make it in time, so he had a friend call him from Boston and relay each pitch. Ramirez listened to his friend with a phone in one ear and called the play-by-play through a second phone held to the other ear. There were also games he listened to in English on Armed Forces Radio and translated into Spanish for his call, even though he hardly speaks any English. And there were games he called with the help of a Western Union wire.
Those mini-miracles, though, are nothing compared to the major miracle that is his life. The Castro regime not only made freedom impossible, it made shelter impossible. Ramirez says Castro's people saw his home, liked it, and kicked his entire family out.
"There was no choice," he said wistfully, "but to leave."
So the sad fact that he never got his dream job as a broadcaster for a Cuban team in the majors is really nothing to Ramirez. "What really gets me down," he said, "is that we lost Cuba overall."
And it was one man who took it from him.
So hearing someone express "love" – or any positive feeling – for Castro is hard for a 90-year-old Cuba native to bear.
And it wasn't just someone. It was Ozzie – the manager of the team he still travels all over the country with. It was Ozzie – the guy who constantly pokes fun at his age. How is this guy still alive?! It was Ozzie, someone Ramirez has known for more than 25 years.
Once the firestorm hit over his Castro comment, Guillen called Ramirez and his broadcasting partner into the clubhouse in Cincinnati and apologized profusely. When asked if he forgave Guillen, Ramirez said yes and calls him a "friend."
But then he says something else.
"I would like more action. Not just words."
Ramirez didn't say what kind of action he expects of Guillen, but he did say he wants to see remorse "over time."
The remarkable story of Felo Ramirez's life is about what baseball gave to him and about what Fidel Castro took away. Those two themes have always intersected, so this week was really nothing all that new for him. Instead of boycotting the team, he showed up to his office as usual on Friday, a living tribute to those who never got to see an American ballpark – or even an American street sign. Ramirez survived Castro's terror; he will certainly survive Guillen's error. And he imagines a time when ballplayers from his native country will be free and able to play in the place he now works.
"I live with that hope," said the man everyone calls Felo.
Then he got up from his chair, slowly walked to the booth named after him, put on his headset and got ready to be the eyes and ears of the Marlins for so many who desperately want to be here, but can't.
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