Extraordinary Stories

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The "Baseball and Puerto Rico Part I: The Players" Story

Sample articles from "The San Juan Daily Star" newspaper.
It was an ordinary day.  Reading in "The San Juan Daily Star" about Carlos Correa becoming the youngest shortstop to ever homer in the playoffs.  Seems that just about every day of our ten day visit to the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico the newspaper proclaimed the virtues of one of their native sons who are currently playing in, or who have played in the past, Major League Baseball and there has been plenty to write about considering that almost 250 native Puerto Ricans have played in the Major Leagues.  I reported in a few other stories I have posted about cab drivers and even food servers who enjoyed talking about professional baseball and the players who represent their Country.  
Houston Astros rookie Carlos Correa.
Well, the story about Carlos Correa tells about the Houston Astros rookie shortstop who blasted a mammoth homer in Game 4 of the Royals-Astros American League Division Series.  Correa is 21 years and 20 days old which means he is the youngest shortstop to ever hit a postseason home run in a playoff game.  The next player in line under him was 80 days older than Correa.  Pretty neat record for any player to own and the Country of Puerto Rico is proud of his feat.  
The first Puerto Rican baseball player, Hiram Bithorn.
Baseball was introduced to Puerto Rico in the 19th Century by immigrants and the first sanctioned baseball game on the island was played January 9, 1898 in Santurce when teams composed of Puerto Rican, American and Cuban players competed.  After this game National teams were formed and played on an international level.  Afro-Puerto Rican players also formed teams and participated in the Negro Leagues.  The very first Puerto Rico born player to play in the Major Leagues was Hiram Bithorn who pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 1942.  With the introduction of black players into the Major Leagues in 1947, that opened the door for more players born in Puerto Rico to play.  
The entrance to the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.
One of my favorite Afro-Puerto Rican players who played for the San Francisco Giants, Orlando Cepeda, was selected for participation in the All-Star Game.   And who could ever forget Roberto Clemente who in 1973 was the first Latin American and Puerto Rican to be elected as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Originally players from Puerto Rico could sign with any team that was willing to give them a minor-league contract, but in 1989 Major League Baseball began to include them in the Major League Baseball Draft so that teams would have to give them a more lucrative contract.  
My aerial photograph I took upon landing in Puerto Rico.
The item in the center is the Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
Puerto Rico was also one of 16 teams to participate in the inaugural edition of the World Baseball Classic in 2006 that was created by Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Players Asso. and the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League.  One of the stadiums located in Puerto Rico, the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan served as one of the venues for the early rounds.  As Carol and I, along with our travel friends Jerry and Just Sue, were approaching the airport in San Juan, high above the city, I was able to take a few photos of stadiums.  They are not the best photos, but 

I believe the one stadium is the Hiram Bithorn Stadium while the other is the Roberto Clemente Coliseum.  What a thrill to see these venues and the importance they hold to the citizens of Puerto Rico.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - tomorrow I will give you a glimpse into one of the most heroic baseball players, Roberto Clemente. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The "Rouge Blimp" Story

Granddaughter Camille #18 heading down the field.
It was an ordinary day.  Sitting along the sidelines at a recreational park field on an early Sunday afternoon in Aberdeen, Maryland watching my granddaughter play her third game of lacrosse.  Her team had won one game, tied the next and had a commanding lead in this, the third of four games her youth team will play today in a weekend tournament.  
Quick photo I got before the blimp disappeared into the clouds.
As Carol looked at the distant sky she said to me, "Look, there's a blimp up there.  I wonder if they are going to use it for an NFL game this afternoon or evening."  Then I sighted it and snapped a photo with my camera.  The white thing was rather minute and looked more like a balloon shaped like a fish than what you would picture as the traditional blimp.  Then, I saw a second one sneaking in and out of the clouds high above the landscape in the distance.  
This Internet photo shows the size of the blimp.
Never got a second shot before the clouds covered the blimps.  Didn't think anything more about it until a few days ago when I saw on TV that an unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its moorings in Maryland and floated over Pennsylvania for hours.  Took a better look at the TV screen and said to my wife, "That's the balloon we saw on Sunday while we were watching Camille play lacrosse.  One of the two broke loose at its mooring and came our way."  The 250-foot long high-tech balloon broke free and climbed to 16,000 feet before long.  
From the Bloomsburg Newspaper showing the blimp.
On board the balloon was sensitive electronics that could be used to detect a missile that may be aimed and deployed at nearby Washing- ton, D.C.  It is the same type of blimp that was used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in drug surveillance in the Caribbean to intercept drug runners.  The two blimps had been tethered above Aberdeen Proving Ground for testing.  Many residents feared they had cameras to watch their movements on the ground which was denied by the Army.  
Internet photo showing the blimp in the trees.
Well, shortly after the balloon broke its tether, two F-16 fighter jets were sent to tail the blimp as it moved northward into Pennsyl- vania.  May have been a bit overkill, but I guess they could have shot it down if necessary.  After about three and a half hours and numerous neighborhood power outages due to the 5,000 foot metal chain tether downing power lines, shotgun-wielding authorities fired over 100 shots at the blimp and brought it down in the Pennsylvania countryside near Muncy, a small town north of nearby Harrisburg.  Authorities were able to recover sensitive electronics, but it will take weeks to remove the blimp from the rugged countryside.  It was reported on TV that the blimp was part of a $2.8 billion Army program called the Joint Land-Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System or JLENS.  The second blimp, still at Aberdeen, will be grounded until it's mooring is deemed capable of holding the blimp.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The "I'll Take Theory #4" Story

The Baccachina Restaurant, 104 Fortaleza Street, Old San Juan, PR.
It was an ordinary day.  Walking the streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico searching for the Barrachina Restaurant at 104 Fortaleza Street in order to have a Pina Colada.  And why the Barrachina?  Well, that's where the drink was supposed to have originated in 1963.  
Plaque in front of the restaurant.
But, there are four theories as to where, when and by whom the drink was first made and Theory #2 says that Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, an author of cocktail books, who worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, met chef Pepe Barrachina, who had a restaurant in Old San Juan, and soon began working at Pepe's restaurant in Puerto Rico.  
My Pina Colada.
Up until that time the restaurant was famous for its Paella, but now, as the marble sign along the street decries, it is the birthplace of the Pina Colada as we know it today.  So, today Carol and I, along with our two traveling companions, Jerry and Just Sue, are sitting in the restaurant with the world famous Pina Colada in front of us.  Has the traditional maraschino cherry and naturally a cocktail umbrella standing tall in the top of the glass.  Doesn't matter what we had for lunch to eat, only matters that we are now part of history.  The drink's recipe at the Barrachina is rather simple with naturally rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender creating the most popular drink in all of Puerto Rico.  So, what are the other three theories you may ask.  Well here you go ……

  • #1 - On August 15, 1954 a man named Ramon "Monchito" Marrero made and served the first Pina Colada at the Caribe Hilton's Beachcomber Bar in San Juan.  The Hilton was the most famous hotel of the day and Monchito worked for months to come up with a new and different drink.  He soon was given credit for the first Pina Colada.
  • #3 - Ricardo Garcia, a Spaniard who had come to Puerto Rico to work at the Hilton, was serving a drink known as the Coco Loco to his guests.  The drink consisted of coconut juice, rum and cream of coconut served in a coconut.  One day in 1954 he was without coconuts because of a union strike at the hotel so he cut off the top of a pineapple and served the drink in it instead of the coconut.  The pineapple gave the drink a different taste than the Coco Loco, so thus the Pina Colada, or strained pineapple, was born.
  • #4 - This is the oldest of the four theories and dates back to the 1800's.  So you would think this has to be the birth of the drink.  A Puerto Rican pirate known as Roberto Cofresi or better known as El Pirata Cofresi, allegedly served a form of the cocktail that had white rum, coconut juice and pineapple juice.  It is said that when the pirate died in 1825 he took the recipe to his grave with him, thus it wasn't known again until one of the other theories came about.  I must say I give this theory my vote, since he made the original drink.
It was neat to walk around the place and snap a few photos even thought the Pina Colada might not have been first made at this place.  At least I drank my Pina Colada in Puerto Rico where it was supposed to have originated at some time in history.  Did I enjoy it?  I must admit I have tasted better!  A lot better!!  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 
The bar on the right was where the first Pina Colada was made.
Interior of the Restaurant.
My check showing my historic purchases.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The "Faces of Strangers: #38" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sitting across from Antonio asking if he can print out our boarding passes for our flight home from Puerto Rico the next day.  Antonio is the Concierge at the Intercontinental Resort in San Juan.  I told him he may have to wait a few minutes before trying, since he could only print them for me within 24 hours of our scheduled flight time.  So, we began a conversation that lasted over half an hour.  He asked where I was from and I told him Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A smile crossed his face and he told me, "I lived there for a year in the early 2000s."  Now, what are the chances that a young Hispanic man living and working on the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea would have lived in Amishland, PA.  Well, I got to learn about his journey through life from his childhood to his position at the Intercontinental San Juan.  Antonio was born in Puerto Rico over 30 years ago and when he was a young child his mother moved to the United States leaving Antonio in Puerto Rico with his father.  Upon graduation from high school he decided to made a trip to see the mother, brothers and sister whom he barely knew.  He told me the neighborhood where his mother and family lived and I told him that is where my daughter lived a few years while a student at Millersville University.  He stayed for a year, working two jobs, but only after he was able to obtain his driver's license, social security card and other necessary documents that had been stolen from him shortly after he arrived in the states.  Upon his return to Puerto Rico he attended and graduated from college and eventually landed the job with Intercontinental San Juan.  We did have a chance to talk about his homeland and he gave me some tips about travel in Puerto Rico.  Very interesting and knowledgeable guy who finally handed me my boarding passes and told me to give him a call if we ever plan to return to Puerto Rico again so he can help us plan another vacation in his homeland.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The "Castillo San Felipe del Morro: Part II" Story

The current lighthouse standing tall above
the upper level of El Morro.
It was an ordinary day.  Gathering together the final photographs to show the different lighthouses that occupied a prominent spot on the Castillo San Felipe del Morro or El Morro as most call the beautiful fort in the city of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The fort had it's beginnings in 1539 and took 248 years to complete, but for many more years after that there was no lighthouse atop El Morro.  Spanish engineers first added a lighthouse to the 6th level of the fortress in 1846 to guide ships safely into and out of San Juan harbor.  The first lighthouse was built on what was known as Austria Bastion which was close to the point where the fort touched the bay while the second lighthouse was built in 1876 on Ochoa Bastion which was on the opposite side of the fort along the water and closer to the city.  This second lighthouse  took a direct hit during a 1898 bombardment by Sampson's U.S. Fleet, and was destroyed, but the brick foundation was salvaged and used for a new lighthouse in 1899. Improvements were made to that lighthouse in 1908 and is the one that stands today.  It stands 51 feet above the sixth and top level of El Morro and it's lamp is 182 feet above sea level and still serves shipping every night.  What a majestic sight it must have been to enter the harbor and see that lighthouse standing atop El Morro.  

The first lighthouse constructed in El Morro in 1846
Second lighthouse in 1876.
Then the lighthouse of 1899 was constructed.
The current lighthouse built in 1908.
The lighthouse as it looks today standing tall above El Morro.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The "Castillo San Felipe del Morro: Part I" Story

Castillo San Felipe del Morro as seen in an Internet
photograph taken from the sea surrounding the fort.
It was an ordinary day.  Standing on the lawn in front of El Morro, actually named Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the fort that was built to defend against sea attackers in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Spanish troops began the building of El Morro in 1539, but it wasn't until 248 years later that the fort was considered complete.  In 1539 El Morro was no more than a simple tower, but the building of what I am about to walk through was designed in 1587 by Spanish engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli and later redesigned from 1760 to 1790.  Old San Juan was founded in 1521, being the first large island with food, fresh water, supplies and shelter encountered by sailors arriving from Europe.  The trade winds led ships from the east into the deep harbor and it became necessary to fortify the strategic location in the Caribbean Sea to protect the riches Spain needed to gain world power.  
This photograph I took from El Morro looking toward
Fort San Cristobal on the opposite side of the city. The
great city wall can be seen in this photo.
Fort El Morro rises over 140 feet above the sea with walls from 18 to 25 feet thick and is today recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, one of only 12 U.S. National Parlks to be do designated.  The majority of the construction work on the fort was completed by civilian craftsmen, off duty soldiers, prisoners and slaves.  Less than a mile to the southeast of El Morro stands another fort, San Cristobal, which is larger in size that El Morro, but doesn't have the fame that El Morro, the promontory or headland, fort has gained.  San Cristobal was actually built to protect against attack on Old San Juan by land.  Carol, Jerry, Just Sue and I spent the better part of a morning of our vacation to Puerto Rico walking the many tiers of El Morro and learning the history of this formidable piece of architecture in this second oldest European-founded city in the Americas.  Follow along with me as I take you on a visual tour of Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

The great lawn before the entrance of El Morro was planned by the military and used as camping grounds during WWII.  Including this grassy area, Fort El Morro's total area is 74 acres.
The entrance to the fort is of classic Greek and Roman design and is meant to express power in size and imperialism.
This is another view of the entrance from a part of the fort that wraps around the water side.
The Main Plaza that you see as soon as you pay and enter the fort on the Main Level.
Heading down the staircase loophole to the lower level.  In this level is the most powerful cannon battery of the fort.  The Garitas, or sentry boxes, can be found along the walls of the fort in this level.  Cannons were placed at this level so they could easily hit the hulls of any ships that attempted to get too close to the fort.

Cannons on the lower level are as they were years ago.
The walls throughout the fort were made of stone, brick, mortar and coral.
View from the lower level.
Another view looking toward the top of the fort from the lower level.
This is a triangular staircase that is closed to the public, but when I saw it there was an attendant at the staircase and he allowed me to enter and take a photo.  This staircase was strategically located to provide soldiers quick access between the six levels of the fort.
Back up the steps to the main level.  You can see the wear from the indentations in the stone.  I was in awe as I walked the same stairs that Spanish soldiers must have walked in the 1500s.
I'm on my way to a higher level through the use of this ramp. 
The upper level gives you a fantastic view of the lawn and city in front of the fort.
This level has turrets for moving the cannons as well as cut-outs in the wall for cannons to be placed.
Another level was where the soldiers lived and worked.  This shows the chapel that they had available for them.
The sleeping quarters for the soldiers.
The large kitchen areas.
This view through one of the cannon ports known as an embrasure gives you a view of yet another fort called San Juan de la Cruz or "El Canuelo."  It is very small compared to the other two forts and sits across the channel, but would provide crossfire when enemy ships enter the channel.
This last photo show the three flags that fly over the fort.  On the right is the United States of America flag, in the center is the flag of Puerto Rico and the flag on the left is the Cross of Burgundy which is a Spanish military flag used from the 16th to 17th centuries to identify warships, forts, and regiments of troops loyal to the king of Spain.  When the great forts were built, this was the flag that was flown.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The "Fabulous Vacation Digs" Story

The Intercontinental Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It was an ordinary day.  Walking the grounds of the Intercon- tinental Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico taking photographs of the amazing property.  Arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and was greeted by someone who opened the taxi door for us and immediately grabbed our luggage and welcomed us to the hotel.  Put tags on all our bags and ushered us into the lobby for check-in.  Now, this is a first class hotel, I thought to myself.  
The grand staircase leading from the pool are to the hotel.
Carol and I traveled from Baltimore, Maryland via a direct flight to San Juan with our long time traveling companions Jerry and Just Sue.  Can't remember how many trips we have taken trips together since Jerry and my retirement from Manheim Township School District in 1999, but it has to be close to 15 or more trips to picturesque and romantic locations around the Caribbean Sea.  This is our first trip together to Puerto Rico and we chose the Interconintental with the recommendation of our travel agent, Karen, from Liberty Travel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  
The main lobby with check-in on the right.
The Intercon- tinental opened in 1967, but as part of the Loews Hotel chain and at first it was known as the Americana of San Juan.  The 15 story hotel was owned by American Airlines when it opened and became the 2nd hotel constructed in Isla Verde after the El San Juan Hotel.  In 1977 the hotel closed due to union problems and didn't open again until 1980 when it was opened under new management and was known as The Palace Hotel.  
View of the pool area from the hotel.
In 1983 it closed again and was opened by the Pratt Corporation in 1987 as the Sand's Hotel & Casino.  The hotel remained under the same name, but in 1991  was purchased by the Flagship Services Corporation.  In August of 1997 the hotel closed once again for a $15 million renovation and opened two months later with a new name, The Sand Juan Grand Beach Resort & Casino.  
The waterfalls area.
Three years later Intercon- tinental Hotels & Resorts took over the property and renamed it and again and spent $20 million in renovations.  In 2008 the Intercontinental underwent yet another $42 million makeover.  And that, my dear friends, is why this place looks amazing.  
Waterfalls area at night.
Everything is clean and shiny and the service is remark- able.  I don't think I saw a single employee who didn't have a smile on their face or a welcoming greeting every time I saw them.  I met some of the nicest people at the resort who I have featured as part of my "Faces of Strangers" stories.  Follow along with me as I show you the place through the lens of my trusty camera.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

View from the outside bar looking toward the water. 
Lower level restaurant where we ate breakfast every morning.
View of the entrance from our 15th floor balcony.
Hallway leading to our room. 
The elevators are beautiful with this painting in everyone of the three elevators.
Upper lobby area that seemed to be used very little.
Everywhere you looked there was fantastic seating and lighting with large artwork.
Doorman was always ready to open the door and help you.
The view from our balcony looking away from the water.
Another view of the hotel from the water side.
The cafe that is on the ocean at the rear of the property.
Our room.  Notice the animals made of towels that were left everyday for our return from the pool or traveling. 
Being that the airport is closeby, I got to take some great photos of jets landing. 
Interesting photograph.  The two employees are walking across a lobby in front of me and you can also see them in the mirrored ceiling above the lobby.  Click on any photo to enlarge it.