that I bought from Ted Paterson in 1985. It was so tiny that it didn’t fit me even then. He left the team during spring training and, there were some rumors he would resurface with the Texas Rangers, but he never did.
Anyway, I had EVERYTHING, and still do, somewhere in my storage tank!
Luis came in for that 1986, stayed at the Belvedere Hotel, and we sat and watched baseball all afternoon.
The Chicago White Sox were playing and had this kid named Ozzie Guillen, who Luis watched with great interest because of their Venezuelan heritage and family ties.
Luis was kind enough to me, signed all of the stuff, I brought, shared some stories with me. He wanted me to make a beer run for him, but I had to explain that I was only 17.
I remember that most of our conversation was about my Dad’s brother, who had passed away in 1981. Luis was close with my Uncle Omar, who was the wine sommelier at the Chesapeake Restaurant downtown, which from what I hear was one swanky, Ruth’s Chris-kinda place back in the day. All the sports writers ate and met there and when I first got into this sports journalism business as a member of The News American in 1984, most of my “heroes” — John Steadman, Vince Bagli, Jack Dawson, Jimmy Jackson, Bob Maisel, Chris Thomas, Ted Patterson — they ALL knew my Uncle Omar.
To them I wasn’t Luis’ cousin, I was Omar’s nephew!
Even though Omar has been gone for 25 years — he died back in Venezuela in April 1981 — my favorite Omar story was told to me recently, just a month ago when an older gentleman and philanthropist from the Northwest side sat at my kitchen table for my All Star Game party. He told me that HE TOO knew Omar from the 1960′s and 70′s at the Chesapeake, all while munching on Esskay Oriole Franks while the game from Pittsburgh blared on in hi-def.
He said that Omar was his favorite guy at the restaurant and that he used to make bananas foster tableside for him and his special someone.
And when he’d add the triple sec to the dish, his Spanish accent was thick enough and it was funny enough, that he would tell the saucier patrons that it was “Triple SEX,” so they could enjoy the rest of their evening. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge!
Who says “witty” doesn’t run in the Aparicio bloodlines, huh?
Omar always hosted a crab feast at his home in Timonium when the Red Sox came to town. I remember being at the house one night when Luis Aparicio, Rico Petrocelli, Luis Tiant and Orlando Cepeda were sitting in the kitchen drinking beer and eating crabs with all my Venezuelan relatives.
It was cool, the Venezuelan side of my family and the Aparicio name. I had cousins who were my age and loved sports. We gathered on weekends and ate a bunch of Venezuelan food (steaks, rice, plantains, arepas), there was always lots of beer and rum and whiskey, penny poker was played into the wee hours and meringue music blared from the turntable at police-baiting volumes. When I got to Venezuela as a young adult, in the late 1980′s, I figured it out: most of the Latin culture is just one, big nonstop party!
I’ve been to Venezuela three times in my life, and twice sat in the stadium in Maracaibo with my family’s name.
The first time, in the summer of 1972, I sat on a donkey outside and went to the game with my parents and my Tio Pepe. My Tio Pepe (to me it wasn’t a restaurant!) is a barber in Maracaibo but was born in Italy. He married my Dad’s sister in Venezuela. And my Tio Pepe had no real use for baseball: soccer and the Italian World Cup team were his passion!
The second time, in November 1987, I watched a VERY young Greg Maddux hurl for Aguilas, the local team. I went into a record store the next day to buy imported Venezuelan-labeled Bruce Springsteen and U2 albums and started chatting with an obviously American middle-aged man. Turns out it was Dick Pole, who you guessed, was with the 1973 Red Sox and whose name is scribbled on that ball I got at Memorial Stadium from Luis. He was actually the pitching coach for Aguilas and I saw him several times with the Cubs and Giants later in life when I became a sports talk show host.
It IS a small world after all.
It kinda hard to express the significance of baseball in my cultural homeland, especially with the political issues and Hugo Chavez (and his relationship with Fidel Castro and the Cuban government) and oil prices. It seems like anytime Venezuela is in the news these days regarding baseball, it has something to do with corruption, kidnappings, hostages or shootings. Luis had a tragedy in his own immediate family with bandits. Venezuela is in rough shape right now and it’s not a safe place for a gringo like me to be.
My paternal father, who shares my name, returned to Venezuela for good during the summer of 1978. He visited me in 1981 and took me to Philadelphia to see the Phillies play (another watershed event regarding baseball