HALL OF FAME INDUCTION 2019
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – When OHS retired athletic director Joe Hughes discovered his former teammate, 16-season MLB shortstop Ozzie Guillén was in Cooperstown last weekend, he and wife Jane jumped in the car and drove up.
“He was there to see Harold Baines get inducted in the Hall of Fame,” said Hughes, who continues as Oneonta Outlaws manager this season. “So, we went over to where he was signing autographs on Main Street and talked for 20 to 30 minutes. It was great seeing him again.”
Hughes and Guillén met 38 years ago when they played together on a Venezuelan professional baseball team in Valera, a small town in the western part of the country.
Hughes was 22; Guillén, only 16. Their team was the Los Proletarios de Trujillo, ”Proletarians of Trijillo,” the province Valera is in; Hughes was the team’s third baseman and Guillén, shortstop.
“There are some people you naturally bond with, and he and I did,” Hughes said. “Ozzie and I made a deal that he would teach me Spanish and I would teach him English.”
Hughes was one of two Americans sent to play on the Venezuelan team that year.
“It was the beginning of America discovering the talent in Latin America,” Hughes recalled. “We were at the cusp of the influx of great players from there.”
The Oneontan had played in the minor leagues at that time, most recently with the Miami Orioles while attending Florida International University. Tigers’ talent scout Camilo Pascual contacted Hughes and asked him if he wanted to play on a team in Venezuela. Hughes jumped at the chance.
“I stayed in a hotel near the stadium where we played,” he said, “and walked around with a Spanish-English dictionary in my back pocket.”
Hughes said Guillén was the best baseball player he had ever seen at that point.
“He had all the tools, the necessary skills to be a really good baseball player,” Hughes said. “And he had the confidence that he was going to the Major Leagues – he knew by then.”
That summer, Guillén was drafted by the San Diego Padres.
Asked about his own playing, Hughes admitted, “I was playing good.”
Hughes didn’t stay in touch with Guillén after 1981, but he put together a leather-bound scrapbook with photos and memorabilia from that spring.
“I had that scrapbook up in my attic for 38 years,” Hughes said. “I dug it up and brought it with me to show him on Saturday. He and his son, Ozzie, Jr., who was with him, were really appreciative that I had that.”
When Hughes asked them if they wanted to borrow it, they said yes.
Hughes said his time in Venezuela was “an eye-opening experience.” The team traveled all over Venezuela by bus to play their games, often staying in a city or town for a weekend before returning to Valero to practice. Hughes saw the country up-close from the bus and their stops along the way to other towns.
“There was no middle class there,” he said. “People were either wealthy, with nice houses, swimming pools and oil rigs in their back yard, or they were living in a dirt lot in a cardboard box. There was nothing in-between.”
“I realized how fortunate Americans were,” he said.
Chances are pretty high Hughes and Guillén will meet up again much sooner than 38 years from now, since Guillén borrowed Hughes’ scrapbook. There’s another reason, too.
“Ozzie loved Cooperstown,” Hughes said. “He told me, ‘I’m going back to Cooperstown and we’ll play golf.’ I told him, ‘I’d like that.’”
Don’t be surprised if you see two Trujillo Proletarians playing nine rounds on Cooperstown’s golf course, teaching each other English and Spanish.