“Remember is to live again”.
To my friends Néstor Santiago Vilariño, the teacher Elia Vega, Juan Rivera Albino; and to the memory of Don Tony González, with deep affection and gratitude.
This story is not about the star player in action on the field in his glory days. Rather, it has to do with the friend, who by the time we met was already retired for many years, and encompasses some minimal, inevitable regressions to his sporting exploits.
Francisco Coímbre Atiles, “Pancho”, was one of the human beings with the sharpest emotional intelligence, the most insight, of all those I have ever met.
On one occasion, Mr. Luis Muñoz Marín was enjoying the historic area of Ponce, walking along one of its sidewalks, and one of his companions, Senator Ramón Enrique Bauzá, from Ponce, realized that in the opposite direction, on the opposite sidewalk, Pancho Coímbre came and whispered it into the governor’s ear, also reminding him that Pancho was a member of the Republican State Party.
Don Luis, who was a baseball fever, preferring to play first base according to Elfren Bernier told me, went ahead to cross the street to catch up with him, all praise and flattery towards Pancho, who with little fluffed up, and adding: “what sorry, they tell me that you play for the opposing team “.
Instantly, Pancho replied: “In that, Don Luis, you are the Champion Bat.”
To complement the economic income provided by his Lottery agency, Pancho founded a children’s baseball school, which operated on Saturdays from Charles H. Terry Park.
One day he met Felix Oliveras in town, affectionately known as “El Gato Oliveras,” who also promoted Little League Baseball, and he told him: “Pancho, I have a group of about 22 boys. I would like you to evaluate them, to see if we can get a team from there ”.
Pancho replied: “Take them to Terry this next Saturday, around 10:00.” Felix couldn’t go that Saturday, but he told her he would send them to her.
When they were already separated, Félix yelled at him: “Ah, Pancho, I forgot to tell you that one of the babies that I am going to send you is an American.”
Some time after that Saturday of the tests, Félix and Pancho met again in town and this dialogue took place:
– “Pancho, what about the group of babies?”
– “There is good material there, Felix. Now, let me tell you that the one who doesn’t take the bat well is the little American ”.
– “Pancho, what happens is that this little American is the son of the president of PPG Industries, who is going to provide us with uniforms, spikes, helmets, gloves, mascots, tools for catchers, bats, balls and he is going to take us to play places like the Dominican Republic and the United States ”.
To which Pancho, as if stung by a wasp, replied:
– “Veteran, those things come forward quickly and clearly, because the little American does not take out the bat well, but he has an arm that is a rifle.”
At one time I insisted on taking Pancho with me to one of the sessions of the Popular Song Collectors’ Meeting that was held annually in Ponce, regularly, at the Amphitheater of the Inter-American University, on the first Sunday of the month of May: an activity created and directed by my compadre and professional partner, Pedro Malavet Vega, for about 20 years.
The attendees were older than me, I assumed correctly, that they were fans of Pancho and that he, who had already taken a lot of affection, was going to have a delicious time.
However, for several years, he declined my invitation, with the excuse that for his Agency Sunday was essential for the sale of the Lottery.
One year I changed my invitation strategy. I bought two tickets for the junte and I went to look for him at the Equestrian Agency, on Guadalupe Street, where he sold his Lottery.
We argued for a while, in different tones of voice, and as an argument to convince him I told him: “Ultimately, the tickets that you don’t sell today for going with me, I’ll buy them all.”
Then, he told me that most of the tickets were ordered and I killed the chicken in his hand, telling him that after the Music Collectors Meeting we would go to hand over the tickets. Finally, I convinced him. As it was, I reluctantly took it away.
When we got to the amphitheater, the act had started and the hall was packed.
Discreetly, we lay down on two folding chairs, in the penultimate row, since at that time the Assembly Hall did not yet have seats.
Suddenly, the master of ceremonies and cultured man, Néstor Figueroa Lugo, saw the presence of Pancho and made the lofty presentation that was pertinent:
– “I notice that towards the end of the room on this left side is the immortal of baseball, the glory of Ponce and Puerto Rico, the honorable Pancho Coímbre, the man about whom the immense pitcher Satcher Page, the greatest sepia pitcher, said. in history, that he was the hardest hitter he ever faced… ”.
When Néstor was in the middle of his presentation, the audience rose to their feet, until everyone did, and offered Pancho one of the most sonorous, emotional and extended ovations I have ever heard.
Pancho was puffing up like a peacock, he brought out all the gold in his teeth, laughing with his whole face, he approached my ear and secreted: “Did you see, they applauded me more than Carlos Gardel?”
(Next week: My meeting with Tuto Giménez Porrata)