Luis Tiant screens film about his journey back to Cuba

Joe Reardon

Mixed with joy, sadness and the bond between a father and his son, Sunday night’s showing at the Dedham Community Theatre of Luis Tiant’s journey back to Cuba after 46 years in the documentary “The Lost Son of Havana” gave a touching glimpse into the fascinating life of one of Boston’s most beloved sports legends.

Proceeds from the movie will help support the Luis Tiant Foundation and local organizations, including Parkway Girls Softball, Parkway Little League and the Mother Brooks Community Center.

Tiant, Boston City Councilor John Tobin and state Rep. Paul McMurtry, D-Dedham, the theater’s owner, sponsored the screening of the movie Sunday evening. Tobin, the chairman of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Arts, Film, Humanities and Tourism, said the movie was much more than a documentary of a major league ballplayer.

“I have seen ‘The Lost Son of Havana’ and it is a poignant story, not just of baseball but of life,” he said. “People will be mesmerized by the film. We are grateful to Luis Tiant not just for his contributions on the field but for making this movie, telling his story and allowing local charities to benefit from it.”

Tiant, one of the most popular and colorful players in Red Sox history pitched for the Sox from 1971-78 and posted 20-win seasons in 1973, ’74 and ’76. “El Tiante” dazzled the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series, spinning a five-hitter for a 6-0 victory in Game 1 and picking up the 5-4 win in Game 4.

The 67-year-old Tiant signed autographs, posed for photos and chatted with fans in the theatre lobby prior to the screening. He introduced the movie, which follows the Red Sox great back to Cuba, where he visits aunts and cousins. Tiant left Cuba in 1961 for a three-month stint in the Mexican League, which ultimately turned into 46 years because of the economic embargo in Cuba.

The documentary includes rare footage of Tiant’s father, Luis “Lefty” Tiant Sr., pitching in the Negro League, and Tiant himself in his major league debut in May 1964, where as a 23-year-old Cleveland Indians rookie, he defeated the New York Yankees, striking out 11.

The movie also gives a glimpse into the poverty and hardship of life in Cuba under Fidel Castro and the determination of Tiant to play in the big leagues. Tiant made an immediate impact on his teammates when he was dealt to the Red Sox after a short stint with the Minnesota Twins.

“We saw Luis show us how to be major leaguers,” said Red Sox Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, who along with Carl Yastrzemski and noted baseball writer Peter Gammons, offered insight into Tiant’s fiery competitiveness and the respect of his teammates and opposing players through the years.

“The fans absolutely loved him and his teammates loved him,” said Yastrzemski.

Gammons recalled a story of a friend who lived three blocks from Fenway Park and how he could hear the chants of “Louee, Louee” clear across the Fens.

Tiant told the audience prior to the showing that he never lost sight of his goal to one day pitch in the major leagues.

“Nobody stopped me,” Tiant said. “The only person who could stop me was the man upstairs.”

Producer Chris Meyer, along with the Farrelly Brothers, brought the story to the big screen. It was purchased by ESPN and received rave reviews when shown at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., last summer.

“The people in Massachusetts know Luis Tiant the ballplayer; they don’t know of Luis Tiant’s life,” said Meyer.

Meyer went on to say he’d like to see Tiant inducted into the Hall of Fame. “The next big goal is to campaign and get Luis into the Hall of Fame where he belongs,” Meyer said.

Tiant jokingly said if he were inducted, he’d like it to be during his lifetime, not after he passes away. “I’ll really be upset then,” he said with a laugh.

For Tiant, the documentary is a bittersweet experience every time he views it. “I’ve seen the movie 15 times,” he told the audience. “Every time I see it, it makes me happy, but it breaks my heart, too. It’s hard to believe why my people have to live that way.

“The only thing I asked God was to let me go back and see my family.”

The film captures Tiant being reunited with his parents when they came to Boston in 1975, where they saw their son pitch for the first time as a major leaguer. One of the happier parts of the film was Luis Tiant Sr. throwing out the first pitch as Tiant held his jacket, beaming with pride.

“They let me do what my father was never allowed to do,” said Tiant of his chance to play professionally in the United States.