Memories of Tampa's baseball past linger

Published March 24, 2005

The rain had stopped by mid morning Wednesday, but the field at the University of Tampa was too soggy for baseball. Puddles remained and certain areas were covered to keep the ground from washing away.

But the action was in the parking lot.

Well behind the third base dugout, a group of men gathered shortly before noon. They were there for the Saladino Tournament's annual Old-Timer's lunch, a private function for the county's baseball pioneers that draws former major leaguers, Negro leaguers, minor leaguers, intersocial leaguers, municipal leaguers, Orange Belt leaguers, metro leaguers and cigar factory leaguers.

On the field, the kids are making memories.

Underneath a tent, the old-timers relive them.

Sporting black sneakers, dark blue pants, a blue oxford, baby blue jacket and an old state trooper hat, Marcelo Maseda walked from one group of men to the next, shaking hands and patting backs.

"Hey, my man," someone shouted.

Maseda, 85, raised his hand in acknowledgement and smiled as he chomped on the end of his cigar before responding, "How you doin'?"

There have been 25 Saladino Tourneys.

Maseda has been to every one of them. He comes for the baseball. And to reminisce.

"There's not as many (old-timers) as there used to be here," he joked. "They're all dead."

We often hear of Tampa's great baseball roots. Maseda and his pals at the luncheon are part of that rich history.

We don't have the space to recite the lives of them all, so instead we'll share a little about Maseda's.

Born in Tampa.

Raised in Tampa.

Still in Tampa.

His parents came here from Spain and owned a cigar factory.

He learned how to play baseball in West Tampa, not far from his childhood home.

He played at Jefferson - the old Jefferson - long before it was moved to Cypress Street.

He played minor-league ball for the St. Petersburg Saints, splitting time between second base and shortstop.

"I used to field good," Maseda said. "But I wasn't a good hitter."

He coached at the University of Tampa.

He coached at Jefferson.

He was a state trooper.

He knew John F. Kennedy and spent time with the president here just a few days before he was assassinated.

He remembers when Hollywood starlet Lupe Velez filmed a movie in Tampa.

He was the executive assistant to Florida's Secretary of State.

He was mayor of Ybor City. Twice.

Today, Maseda, widowed three years ago, lives with his daughter in West Tampa, three blocks from the house in which he was raised. He's doing quite well.

Several times a week he drives to Ybor to spend time with Arturo Fuente Jr., a friend who owns a cigar retailer. And he still catches a baseball game now and then.

He can tell you about Wade Boggs.

About Tino Martinez.

About Dwight Gooden.

He watched them all.

The best player he ever saw?

"Ted Williams," he said.

The best from Tampa?

"It has to be Al Lopez," Maseda said. "Let me tell you, he's a prince of a guy. He's in the Hall of Fame so you know he has got to be good."

You can't go an hour these days without someone talking about Tampa's future.

This, however, was a day to cherish the past.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 226-3350.