While we were in Cuba last month, we learned of the recent death of Alberto "Fico" Ramos. Fico is well-known in Hemingway circles, because he was one of the original members of the baseball team that the writer created for his son Gregory after taking up residence outside Havana in the early 1940s. The team was called the Gigi Stars, Gigi being the 10-year-old (or so) Gregory’s nickname. Fico later became chef at the Hemingway house, known as the Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm. The house stands high on a hilltop above San Francisco de Paula, a village about a dozen miles southeast of Havana. The Cuban government has owned the house since the hemingways left in 1960 and now operates it as the Museo Ernest Hemingway.
We met Fico on our first trip to Cuba, in 2003, and I sat in on an interview session on the grounds of the Finca, sitting by the drained pool, where I took this photo. I remember Fico as extremely personable and eager to share stories of life around the Hemingways. Our friend Raul Villareal, with whom we spent a week in Havana in December, confirmed Fico’s death the first week of December. “He was able to see his daughter who came in from Miami and I was told that he left us peacefully in her company,” Raul told us in an email. Fico in fact worked with Raul’s father, René Villareal, who ran the Hemingway household in the 1950s and oversaw its preservation after Hemingway’s suicide in 1961. “I was very sad to hear the news,” Raul added. “(W)e lost one of the few remaining Cubans who knew and worked for Hemingway.”
To bring the story full baseball circle: On our return visit to the Finca Vigia in December, we happened to meet Jorge Juan Rey Artze, who for 10 years has coached a youth baseball team in the surrounding village of San Francisco de Paula. Carol Zastoupil thus was able to continue her mission to deliver baseballs young Cubans. We’ve often seen kids swinging crude bats against rocks in the street, so she has taken the lead in loading her bag with baseballs. (I pack a few sets of guitar strings to hand out.) A couple of years ago, we stopped to watch a youth team practice in Guantanamo City and shared a bunch of balls with them, leading to a team picture and much good cheer.