POMONA- Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, former Yankee pitcher and 4x World Series champion, fired a strike last evening, not at Yankee Stadium, but at Palisades Credit Union Park. Orlando Hernandez, born in Cuba, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the first of a three game series where the Rockland Boulders host the Cuban National team. Through a translator, he said “I feel good to be back in New York… I feel very good. This is a very special day, I had a very good catcher, a lot of good memories, and I thank God for this moment”.
On this historic day, as the stadium announcer announced the starting lineups, including each player’s number in Spanish, the stadium was abuzz with excitement.
Fans were eagerly waving hand flags of both Cuba and the United States. Former Yankee catcher and current YES Network broadcaster John Flaherty said “It’s great having El Duque here with the Cuban National team in town. The Boulder fans have been waiting for this… For me, watching El Duque back on the mound throwing the first pitch was a treat, but seeing him interacting with our players and our fans was even more important.” Flaherty founded the Boulders in 2011.
When I asked El Duque about the impact of this game in Cuba, he became very animated, explaining, through a translator: “I think the impact was good, especially for the people. But I think they should do it a little more often. The people are very happy and excited, and aside from the political issues or the President of the United States being there, it proved we need to improve a little bit more and [become] a little bit better, and that’s what we’re doing here. When I say ‘we’, I am Cuban, so I am talking about the Cuban people and the Cuban teams.” When I asked about his thoughts on the MLB requiring each team to employ a Spanish translator, he replied “I think it’s a good thing, but I also think that, unlike what I did, … the young kids should focus on learning English and studying”.
When I caught up with former Yankee, Cuban-American Tino Martinez, he told me “I don’t want to get into politics, but I really like the fact that we go there and play there. You can see the Cuban people love it. They love seeing the American teams come there and it … gives them hope for freedom one day. It’s fun watch the team and to see their reactions”.