The Cuban baseball mourns one of the first heroes of those romantic years, when according to Pedro Chavez they played at 42 degrees in the shade: Antonio Jiménez Casa del Valle, the great “Nico” Jiménez, died in his native Guines, at 74.
Before Michael Jordan resized us the number 23, before Enriquito Diaz was king of stolen bases, already Nico Jimenez had made famous the flannel 23 of Industriales and Havana, thanks to perfect steals and elegant fielding.
In fact, one of the virtues that characterized him was his explosiveness and “timing” to steal the base to the pitcher, and to evolve after a drive and turn in the right place to catch a fly as the book rules: at the chest, with both hands.
Not a month ago he reappeared on national television, after years without knowing what had become of that coal seller child who dreamed of being an engineer and Almendares, and ended become a must in Cuban baseball. He looked thin and sparse, very talkative compared to Urbano González, who had been interviewed earlier.
“Nico” started in amateur baseball with just 14 years, at the Trujillo Deportivo in Guines. In 1957 he joined the Mayabeque Textile team and a year later he joined the Spanish Casino de Guines, with whom he participated in the Amateur Athletic League. That campaign he batted .408 (leader) and made the Cuba team to the Pan American Games in Chicago.
He was one of the pioneers of the National Series, debuting in 1962 as a shortstop and outfielder in Occidentales, ultimately the first champion. Thus began a 13-year career, during which he made of stealing a base an art.
Upon retiring in 1974 had 324 stolen bases in 437 attempts, and ranks eighth among the base stealers of revolutionary baseball. He only made 72 errors in 1800 plays, evidence of his good hands and sense of position.
With the national team he played the Central of Puerto Rico in 1966 and several world championships. He was legendary and that greatness earned him to be among the 17 baseball legends interviewed by Leonardo Padura and Raul Arce for the book The Soul in the Ground, reissued this year a quarter century after its launch.
In the text, “Nico” explained the secret of his success as a stealerr: I do everything right, as if something was wrong I had everything to lose. He stated that to steal he had to take into account the conditions of batter and count to predict the release with which he would go to steal
“You cannot steal a base to a good catcher. You have to steal it from the pitcher, and just taking his time just still can get to the base, “added Nico, for whom the slide was the culmination of everything. “You can never watch the ball, but when you go to the base you have to look good to the player who will cover it, as he tells you where the shot comes and logically you should slide where to get away from the ball.”
With the death of Nico Jimenez another glorious chapter of Cuban baseball closes, another hero who no longer comes out, and increasingly we will have less.