Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cuba's Favorite Castro Sibling

          Dr. Antonio Castro Soto del Valle lives modestly and avoids the spotlight as much as possible, but he is easily the most popular of Fidel Castro's eight (yes, 8) sons and he is deeply admired on the island of Cuba.
           If it were not for his passionate love of baseball, Antonio would be a virtual unknown off the islalnd. However, his role as the trainer for Cuban teams in the Olympics, World Cup, and Pan-Am Games conspicuously caught the attention of reporters, photographers, and television cameras. Antonio is very active on international committees and forums that promote and officiate baseball. Like seven other Fidel sons on the island, Antonio has no political ambitions whatsoever. But he champions better relations with the U. S. and he longs for the day when "our two countries can work and play together in all areas, including but not limited to baseball."
          Baseball this week returned Antonio to the spotlight. On Tuesday (March 20) he signed an agreement with Paul Seiler, executive director of the U. S. Baseball Federation, for U. S. college players to take on Cuban players in a five-game series that will be played July 5-9 in Havana's Estadio Latino. It will be a warmup for the Haarlem Baseball Week tournament that will be played in the Netherlands later that month. This week's agreement, strongly championed by Antonio, re-establishes -- at least for one year -- an annual U. S. - Cuba series that was held every year from 1987 through 1996 when Antonio himself was both a fan and a player.
         Besides baseball, Antonio admits to two other habits that also once commanded avid attention from his father -- cigars and pretty girls. (His date above is the gorgeous Patricia Nunez).
         Antonio often takes his mother, Dalia Soto del Valle, to baseball games. "My father loved and played baseball," he says, "but my mother is the one who taught me to cherish the game."
         The baseball-loving Dalia had five devoted sons after she married Fidel in 1980 shortly after the death of his idol Celia Sanchez, who also had been Dalia's dear friend. Her five sons with Fidel are Antonio, Alejandro, Alex, Alexis, and Angel.
         On January 8th, 1980 -- three days before she died of cancer -- Celia Sanchez asked Fidel Castro to marry Dalia Soto del Valle. Both women well knew it was a request Fidel would not refuse. A month earlier, Celia had asked Dalia for permission to make that death-bed request of Fidel.
          As with his other seven sons, Fidel dotes on Dr. Antonio Castro del Valle but none of them enjoy special privileges on the island (apart from bodyguards) and he has not groomed any of them as politicians or revolutionaries. Other than baseball and his work as a physician, Antonio is almost always noncommittal (evasivo in Spanish) about anything related to his last name. However, the Jamaica Observer reported that on a flight to Japan for a baseball tournament, Antonio, when asked about his father's illness, merely said, "He knows the perils of old age. As he looks back, he knows the two best things in his life have been Celia Sanchez and my mother. Let's just leave it at that. Too much will be said about all the rest."

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