by: Camron Ghorbi
On a balmy late-summer afternoon in the team meeting room at Mark Light Field, the same baseball sanctuary where Luis Brande once honed his notorious off-speed repertoire, all of the usual suspects were present and accounted for.
There was Red Berry, the legendary pitching coach and even better story-teller, working his charm to the delight of the crowd. There were battery mates Steve Lerner and Pat Callahan sharing a tale about “The Wizard” over in the corner. And, of course, there was public address announcer Jay Rokeach – whose voice sounded as amplified as it did over the park’s meager sound system way back then.
But the biggest smile of them all – no small task in a room full of Hurricane baseball pioneers, make no mistake about it - belonged to Luis.
One of the former righthander’s stories focused on a team trip to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake.
“The baseball stadium in Esteli had chicken wire all over the place, and had wooden horse stables as our dugout. It was a cowboy town with six shooters, holsters, and horses!”
Lerner, listening to the story from afar, burst out laughing in confirmation.
“You should have seen it! It was unbelievable!”
And so went the afternoon, another magical one to add to The Light’s lengthy history of similarly emotional days. With so many smiles circulating amongst the group, one of the reunion’s driving motives – Luis’ continued battle with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – was overshadowed by the encompassing familiarity of the ballpark and its habitants.
Luis, a two-year reliever for the Hurricanes from 1974-76, is no longer able to verbally communicate due to the effects of the disease. With some assistance from Jay-Ro, however, Luis shared more stories – the addictive iced tea in the dugout, a trip to the Bahamas where the opposing catcher threw “laser beams” behind his back (which Luis imitated), the four innings of no-hit baseball he threw in relief at a tournament hosted by Mississippi State.
The crowd, which included teammates and coaches from Luis’ two years at Dade-South, was beaming.
Dr. Oscar Loret De Mola, formerly a Hurricane catcher and now a local pediatric gastroenterologist, was taken aback by the portrait of his former teammate – delivering a vicious hook to a pitiable opponent - plastered to the wall. All attendees signed the poster with a personalized touch.
“He is such a great friend,” the doctor said, smiling. “And, man, what a curveball.”
Luis’ wife Dora was more than happy to fulfill her husband’s familiar role of photographer for the day. One of the better photo opportunities arrived when Director of Athletics Blake James and head baseball coach Jim Morris presented Luis with a cap and jersey – adorned with his name and #14, of course – to honor his achievements.
Just one day after their 16-year wedding anniversary, Dora was thrilled to finally attach faces to the names involved in stories she had heard too many times to count.
“Luis didn’t know a lot of the guys would be there today, because I wanted it to be a surprise,” she said. “It’s a great community, and it has been so many years since Luis has been a part of the University. To bring him back and reconnect with his teammates, everyone went out of their way to make this happen. It’s such a special thing to do for a wonderful man.”
Overheard by all, as he always has been, Jay-Ro finished his reading of Luis’ memoir.
“We have so many memories together,” it read. “God bless UM baseball, and God bless all of you.”