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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Kill the Ámpaya --Latin American Baseball Anthology

This is apparently the year of anthologies for me. Since I knew so little about Latin American baseball, I figured I would learn something from Kill the Ámpaya edited and translated by Dick Cluster.  There were also a couple of standout stories including one that totally blew me away with its power.  No one asked me to review this April 2017 release, and I don't recall who drew my attention to it.


I have my usual disclaimer for anthologies that I have no commitment to review.  I only read a third of the anthology.   This means that two thirds of the book didn't interest me, but I certainly did learn a few things about baseball history that I hadn't known.

From the introduction I learned that baseball came to Cuba while it was still under Spanish rule.  The Spanish colonial authorities banned baseball twice because Cubans preferred it and stopped attending bullfights.  
From the absolutely brilliant story, "A Notorious Home Run" by Puerto Rican author Cezanne Cardona Morales, I discovered American Negro League great Josh Gibson (1911-1947).  If I were a baseball fan, I would probably have heard of him, but it's been many years since I've been to a baseball game.   My sports are figure skating and gymnastics.   Josh Gibson is known as one of the best baseball players of all time.  He had eighty home runs to his credit.  He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the U.S. in 1972.

Below is a public domain photo of  Josh Gibson which I found on his Wikipedia page.


Why did "A Notorious Home Run" impress me so much?  It combined the drama of a critical moment in an American World Series game with the stark horror of Rwandan genocide.   Cezanne Cardona Morales' fictional player Reba Kigali was compared to Josh Gibson, but could he have been a war criminal in Rwanda?  I found this story incredibly powerful and moving.   It's one of the best short stories I've ever read.

I read two stories in this anthology that dealt with female baseball players, but one's primary value was as an LGBT story dealing with gender.  I would have been happy to see it in an anthology dealing with those topics, but it didn't really focus on baseball.  The second female baseball player story was "How Tomboy Maria Learned She Could Fly" by Daniel Ernesto Reyes Germán.  It dealt with the tragedy of  a Haitian girl in the Dominican Republic who loved baseball and was genuinely good at it.  It was her dream to play baseball, but this wasn't a dream that she would be allowed to accomplish.   Sadly, there was no "league of her own".   Perhaps one day girls will have a real possibility of becoming professional baseball players when they grow up, but that day has not yet arrived.

There were stories that disappointed me or failed to engage me in Kill The Ámpaya , but I'm glad that I got to read the stories that I loved in this anthology.  In particular, I would single out "A Notorious Home Run" as unforgettable.


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