He’s what most sports fans think they are or wish they were: extremely knowledgeable about his sport, its history, statistically driven, and a user of facts in his discussion about the game. “I just know a lot about baseball and I try to discuss with people using facts and I think people like that.” He lives baseball, he suffers baseball. It’s his game. That is Felix Antonio Salazar Menendez or as everyone knows him by, “Tony.”
It is the day before Major League Baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rays plays in Havana, against the Cuban national team. There are a few dozen men in Havana’s Central Park talking baseball. This hot spot is known as La Esquina Caliente or the “Hot Corner,” Cuban slang for third base, and it is where Cuban baseball aficionados meet everyday to talk about their national pastime for hours. Tony is standing right in the middle of the crowd answering questions with specific dates, names, and numbers. It is a sight to behold.
Tony’s knowledge about Cuban baseball and even MLB baseball is remarkable. It is not one that has been obtained through hours of research through Google or listening to talking heads on ESPN, but rather been accrued from years of reading books, spectating games, reading imported Sports Illustrated magazines, writing down shared knowledge in his notebook, and by being a true fan of the game.
“Enjoy him while you’re here,” Alain Rivera Stable, a close friend of Tony’s said. “He is a human encyclopedia. He knows more about baseball than any other person on this island. He is a smart guy.”
Tony doesn’t have a functioning cell phone because it is too expensive to have one in Cuba, he doesn't have a radio, he doesn’t have access to the Internet, and he doesn’t even have access to MLB games. “They only show one game every once in a while. They can’t even give us that!” he says.
As the crowd continues to talk about baseball, a heated discussion – the usual – breaks out around us about who is going to win the game between the Rays and Cuba. “The Rays aren’t a good team, of course Cuba’s going to win!” shouts a gentleman in the crowd. Tony looks over shaking his head. “That’s the problem here. People talk just to talk. I bet you he does not know anything about the Rays team. He wouldn’t be able to name a single player. He’s your average Cuban fan, he doesn’t care about the stats, and he just cares about what he thinks.”
Tony hurries to find a place to watch the game since there was no way he was going to make it inside the stadium. The game was through invitation only and out of all the regulars of “La Esquina Caliente,” almost none got invited.
Cuba lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 in a lackluster performance with their only run coming from a bottom of the ninth. The next day over at La Esquina Caliente, you can imagine, Tony had a lot to say about it.