HAVANA – Conrado Marrero can still remember the crisp feeling of slipping on his Washington Senators uniform, and the surge of adrenaline he got staring down Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and other major league batters.
But the diminutive right-hander’s glory days are a world – and a revolution – away.
The Cuban pitcher who last year became the oldest living former big leaguer turned 101 on Wednesday, surrounded by family and a couple of old friends in his modest Havana apartment, the faded walls in need of paint, the spartan furniture tattered and frayed.
Marrero is hardly in better shape. He has been confined to a wheelchair since fracturing his hip last year, is hard of hearing and can no longer see. But the man once known as “The Peasant of Laberinto,” after the central Cuban farm where he grew up, still indulges in cigars, and listens avidly to Cuban baseball on the radio.
Not bad for a man who is a year older than Boston’s iconic Fenway Park, which celebrated its centenary earlier this month.
Marrero, who was known in his major league days as Connie, speaks with pride about the five years he spent with the Senators, and he raises his voice in excitement when he recalls going against pitchers such as Allie Reynolds of the Yankees or Early Wynn, who in those days played for mighty Cleveland.
Beating the Yankees, he says, was the sweetest feeling in the world.
“They were strong,” he said. “They were the best. Each batter was a struggle.”
Marrero had less good things to say about his own team, the lowly Senators, who he called “lazy” and error prone. Still, he said it was a thrill to suit up every day.
“Putting on that uniform always made me feel bigger, more powerful,” said Marrero, who in his playing days was listed as 5-foot-5 and 158 pounds.
A 39-year-old rookie in 1950 following a standout career in Cuba, he played five years in the majors.