A Goodbye To A Friend

Ray Otero

By Ray Otero | BaseballdeCuba Founder

I have to confess that it took me a while to write about the news I received this past Monday. With great regret, I learned of the death of someone I could call with great pride A FRIEND. A fascinating and incredible person: Peter Bjarkman. With tears in my eyes, it still seems incredible to me that the great Pete has passed away, no coincidence that he was in Havana, a place he called his second homeland.

Shocked and saddened by the news. Not only because of our relationship for more than 10 years in our infinite love for Cuban baseball and his permanent collaborations with which we decided to call our site one day, BaseballdeCuba.com, but above all, for the great human being he was.

Pete was a little bit of everything: passionate, cultured, frank, a true friend and a magnificent writer, someone difficult to find nowadays. He was not afraid to raise his voice in defense of Cuban baseball, but at the same time, he was able to listen to those who disagreed with him.

I met Peter in a curious way. After our BaseballdeCuba.com site was launched in November 2003, and when publications on the internet about Cuban baseball were very scarce, Peter attended the 2007 Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico, and in an interview offered to a local newspaper, he did mention the site, as one of the few sources that emerged at that time and that followed the baseball played in the island.

My gratitude was immediate and I emailed him. His response was instantaneous, and he asked me for a chance to write for BaseballdeCuba. Less than a week later, I received his first article: Winter Pro Baseball's Prouddest Heritage Passes into Oblivion, and from that moment his collaboration became almost weekly and especially during the international events where the Cuban national team participated, events that he always attended. Peter became the English voice of Cuban and Latin-American baseball to the world.

Peter, for all who were fortunate enough to meet him, or at least read his articles or publications, Cuban baseball became his life. Nobody in such a short time, after making his first trip to Cuba in 1996, could explain Cuban baseball to the world the way Peter did. 

Peter was always very controversial, both, in his discussions and articles. For this reason, perhaps, it was misunderstood. Countless are the occasions that I had to intervene with my Cuban compatriots, on Peter’s behalf.

Peter was a teacher for me. I learned a world from him and he taught me at different way to see baseball. Our conversations about baseball, especially Cuban baseball, were more like lessons for me. Didn’t matter where, in San Diego with the Dodgers legend Orel Hershiser, at a Cuban restaurant in Washington DC or Durham, sharing a room in a hotel in North Carolina, in Nebraska, in Panama, or in my own house in Maryland. Peter was always concerned about the future of Cuban baseball, its internal and external problems, while was telling me the most amazing stories with his unique sense of humor and passion for the game.

His idolatry, passion and love for Major League Baseball in the fifties and sixties, changed; when in the eighties and nineties the game became commercialized. As Major League Baseball discovered a way to maximize profits and increase wages without resorting to salary caps.  Difficult to understand for Cubans who were born after the Cuban Revolution (1959) - a time when professional baseball was banned in the island, and MLB was also prohibited in Cuba - this was a factor that completely changed Peter's own perspective on Major League Baseball, and led him to look for something different. In a fortuitous way, Peter was able to see the Cuban National team competing in the baseball tournament of the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta, and from that moment on his life changed forever. 

In 1996, along with photographer Mark Rucker, he found Cuba and its historic baseball, giving the world his great coffee-table book, SMOKE - The Romance and Lore of Cuban Baseball. This was a book that opened the eyes of everyone to the forgotten baseball that was played on the island.

The style of playing the ball on the island, turned out to be something that caught his heart in an incredible way so it never left it. It was the only way people could understand what Peter did for Cuban baseball in the next 21 years of his life.

Cuba, in the mid-nineties and still suffering the Special Period crisis, was a baseball paradise for Peter. Nobody like him knew the poor conditions of the Cuban baseball infrastructure and the players themselves. Nobody like him criticized this and even, as he was able to predict the success of the Cuban national team in the first edition of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he was also able to tell me personally in 2009, during our coverage of the II World Baseball Classic in San Diego, what it was coming for Cuban baseball on the island, the crisis that we currently see.

That was how great his vision and knowledge about Cuban baseball was, but simply for knowing the most important and curious details about the baseball in the island and those in charge of it. 

Peter was an incredible human being, and I cannot forget and thank him eternally for opening too many doors for me in my own Cuban baseball adventures.

Peter left several publications unfinished, but one of them, "THE YANQUI IN CUBA'S DUGOUT: Travels Inside Fidel Castro's Baseball Empire" promised to resonate at a great height with stories never seen before or published. I'm proud to have been the author of the cover photo of the book.

For more than a year Peter did not write for BaseballdeCuba. He was immersed in the publication of his new book. However, recently Peter had written me expressing how eager he was to return to publish on the site.

On his last email to me, dated Sep. 21, Peter mentioned his stay in Canada for his trip to Cuba and his return this past Monday, to be home on Tuesday. Fate took away the opportunity to wish him another Welcome Back. 

I have no doubt that the next time we see each other the main topic of conversation will be Cuban baseball.

Thanks Peter for everything you did for our national pastime, we will never forget you, but, at least for me, everything won’t be the same with your departure.

Adiós y buen viaje hermano.

(*) Our site, which is currently undergoing a renovation process, will release Peter’s archive with all columns that he wrote for the site.