Rough Diamond

A Cuban embezzler built it, anti-Batista guerrillas trained in it, Nicaraguan refugees lived in it, and Frank Robinson played baseball in it. Now somebody has to step to the plate and save Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium.

"Aleman Jr. was a spoiled boy and he didn't care anything about business," recalls Al Rubio, the former Sun Sox general manager. "All he did was spend. He had depleted his resources." Ed Little adds that Aleman's generosity was an inborn trait; the young mogul couldn't help buying gifts for his friends or giving aid to unfortunate strangers. "He was a sweetheart of an individual," Little recalls. "He was just the nicest guy."

Aleman had blown most of his inheritance on Cuban politics. Passionately opposed to Fulgencio Batista, who had overthrown Pres. Carlos Prio Socarras in a bloodless coup in late 1952, Aleman began supporting Batista opponent Fidel Castro by supplying the rebel leader with cash and guns. "There were arms stored in the visiting team's manager's room, stocked to the ceiling," Rubio remembers. "He had rifles and bazookas and all that stuff. He had cartons and cartons of grenades."

Miami Stadium wasn't merely a storage shed for armaments. Castro's rebels also used the playing field to hone their combat skills: According to Little, Aleman let the guerrilla group live in his stadium and personally trained many of them, using broomsticks instead of guns. The logo Castro used to commemorate his July 26 arrest at Moncada was drawn up by the Sun Sox's Miami advertising agency.

Rubio doesn't think the training had much of an impact back in Cuba. "These people were con artists," he grumbles. "I used to tell Jose that they were bleeding him blind. They'd get $50,000 or $60,000 from him and load a bunch of boxes and say they were flying to Cuba, but they never did. They milked him like they were milking a goat. They used to tell me to mind my own business, so I didn't say nothing: I didn't want to get shot."

Baseball returned to Miami Stadium in 1956, in a big way. The Dodgers held their spring training in Allapattah, and summer saw the debut of Triple A ball, only one notch below the major leagues. A team from Syracuse, New York, relocated to town as the Miami Marlins, the first of several teams that would come to use that nickname. The squad's principal drawing card, aging pitching legend Satchel Paige, arrived for the home opener in a helicopter that landed on second base, sending a spray of sand into the faces of the crowd.

Political leaders had predicted that Miami Stadium would turn a profit with a Triple A tenant. "I think the people of Miami will support baseball if it is in a higher league," Welfare Director Knox Eldredge theorized in a November 1955 Herald story. But Eldredge was wrong. Even with the Marlins, the stadium's economic returns were disappointing. And they remained disappointing. Within four years, the Marlins relocated to San Juan.

By then Aleman Jr. was long gone. In April 1958 he had finally lowered his asking price for Miami Stadium to $850,000, a figure the city could live with. Almost as soon as the sale closed, Aleman took his pile of money and happily donated it to Castro. "My greatest pride is finding myself in bankruptcy," he told Cuba's Bohemia magazine in January 1959.

After the sale, he'd stop by the stadium only occasionally. "He came around a few times, not so much that people would know who he was," recalls Sonny Hirsch. "Then he sort of just drifted out of sight. He just drifted out of sight."

Now that they owned the stadium outright, city officials aggressively strove to make it profitable. The city manager landed the major league Baltimore Orioles as a spring training tenant to replace the Dodgers, who had moved to a new complex in Vero Beach. The Oriole partnership would last 31 years, during which time the team became synonymous with the stadium and fans got to watch Hall of Fame-caliber players such as Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken, Jr., honing their skills. Several of the Orioles' Class A affiliates, including the Miami Orioles and two more teams called the Miami Marlins, took turns as the stadium's summer lodgers.

In an effort to adapt the stadium to more than just baseball, a giant concert stage was constructed along the left-field wall. A new press box arrived in 1987, the same year that Bobby Maduro, the man who had brought organized baseball to Cuba, died in Miami, his adopted hometown. In honor of the extensive role Maduro played in the development of baseball in Florida, especially in the Latin communities, the Miami City Commission voted unanimously to rename Miami Stadium in his honor. (In a cost-saving move, city workers painted Maduro's name on a plywood board and simply bolted it to the stadium's facade.)

"While Baltimore was here, the city really put a lot of money into the stadium," says Sonny Hirsch. "They redid the press box, and they redid some of the field. They upgraded the seats from the old wood to plastic. They did a good job with it. But as things wore on, the neighborhood gradually deteriorated. People were reluctant to go into that particular area. It got to the point at the end there where Baltimore didn't want to play any night games."

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