Baseball's Elvis grew up hard in Cuba

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A call came in on my cellphone the other day, but the caller was unknown. I knew of no such number.Then it hit home.It was Elvis.OPINION

Through a friend, I had heard about Elvis Dominguez, the Bradley University baseball coach, who came to the U.S. from Cuba on a Freedom Flight in 1971 and shares a name with the king of rock ‘n’ roll, the late Elvis Presley.Cubans have a recent history of coming up with unusual names: Yonder, Yoenis, Onelki and Adeiny are first names of Cubans who have made Major League Baseball rosters. Years ago, Newsweek called it a quirky Cuban custom in an article about odd Cuban names at a summer Olympics.Many names start or include the letter Y, which inspired prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez to title her blog Generation Y. Many names also suggest Russian influence, dating to the communist ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union. By the 1970s, unusual names became a Cuban trend. You didn’t see Maria Adela as often.You saw Yordaca.“Look back,” Dominguez told me, “and you’ll see Latin last names with a communist influence in the first name.”This didn’t sit well with Dominguez’s mother, who felt pressured by the government and changing times to choose a Russian name for her first-born son in 1963, he says.The Soviets didn’t have a profound impact on Cuban culture, except perhaps when it came to names, said Pedro Roig, author of “Death of a Dream: History of Cuba Elusive Quest for Freedom.”“Sometimes Cubans modified [names] with how they heard them,” Roig said to explain odd spellings. Others intentionally put their own creativity in them.Back to Elvis: “My mom said, ‘The hell with this. We’re not doing this.’ My mom is a pretty willful lady.”She chose one of the most iconic American names for her boy. That’s how Elvis Dominguez came to be.A music man he isn’t, but it is fitting that Elvis made a career from the great American pastime. He has fond memories of playing for former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry at Creighton University in the 1980s. He followed Hendry into coaching.Then, too, baseball is a national pastime in Cuba.Dominguez and his friends made baseballs out of rocks with a round feel and wrapped cloth around them for softness on sandlots in Cuba.“Heaven forbid you had a glove,” Dominguez said. They made those out of milk cartons. They had make-believe bases.“You just played over and over,” he said.To this day his favorite meal is a ham and cheese sandwich, what he ate on the Freedom Flight to Miami when he was 8.He cannot forget his family’s struggles, or forgive the Castro government, which is why the thawing of U.S. sanctions against Cuba bothers him. The damage is irreversible, he said.The family ate stale bread, soaked in days-old coffee grinds to make it slightly more palatable, because of food rationing. He begged Russian soldiers for chewing gum and made it last after chewing by rewrapping it in foil.He is grateful that his mother took a stand and gave him that name.“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Knowing my history, you can see why it has so much more meaning.”Email:

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