The Minnesota Twins and the Dominican Republic national team played a preparation game a few days ago at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida and during my coverage of the event I had the pleasure of being able to chat with a man who is Cuban baseball royalty , the great Tony Oliva.
The Pinar del Río slugger who was enshrined in Cooperstown last year was an eight time all-star game during his playing days. Oliva was also named the American League rookie of the year in 1964. During his 15 seasons in the big show he hit a robust .304 , belted 220 home runs and drove in 947 runs.
Oliva also won three batting titles (1964,1966,1971) and a gold glove (1966) during his time on the grand stage. Before it was all said and done he collected a total of 1,917 hits and posted and slashed .353/.476/.830 . If not for a consistent knee problems during his career the outfielder would have posted astronomical numbers and might have gotten the call to the Hall of Fame a lot sooner.
What is your role with the team (the Twins) in the spring?
It is a very smooth function because I am here watching the boys. This consists of the prospects they brought in and some of players who signed them during the season. We have very good players, I think we are going to be very competitive this year, because some good signings were made this offseason and that is going to help us a lot.
You finally made it to the Hall of Fame. This was something that was long overdue. How did you feel on the day you were given the news about being elected?
Well, I’ll tell you: the call was very important to my family and myself. When they called me and told me that they had elected me into the Hall of Fame, it was very emotional to me because there were many of loved ones in my company. My wife was very happy, my friends, my family, and you know it is something that I had already failed on several occasions. The last time being by a vote. It was a very beautiful thing, it not only gave me a great sense of pride but it also filled my home with joy on that day. I spent three months rehearsing everything involved with me and the event, because I wanted everything to be perfect on the date of enshrinement. I was very nervous on how that day would turn out because I have seen many players who had reached the Hall in the past and when that moment came to speak they couldn’t articulate anything coherent because of their nervousness or lack of preparation for the moment. But by the grace of God, everything went well for me, I would have liked to have thanked all my people during my speech, but I couldn’t cover everyone in the allotted time.
Tony, Cuba is finally allowing Major League Baseball players on its roster for the World Classic. Give me your opinion on that and how it makes you feel?
I know that many people, mainly here, do not share my opinion, and in Cuba as well. There they are trying to make a good team, compete and have the opportunity now to do so with the additions they made. I think it’s a good idea to allow players not aligned with the Cuban Federation to play in the tournament. In my opinion it is a good idea, but that’s only my opinion other people might see things a little different than I do.