Remembering Diana Diaz Gandía widow of Pedrin Zorrilla

A great baseball couple: Diana Diaz and Pedrin Zorrilla

Jorge Colón Delgado phoned the author Sunday afternoon, November 14, 2021, regarding the passing of Diana D. Zorrilla, at age 98, the previous night. Doña Diana, as she was affectionally known (Doña is a sign of respect), had been married to Pedrín Zorrilla—founder and first owner, Santurce Crabbers Baseball Club—for 33 years, from 1948-1981. This marriage produced two daughters (Diana Margarita and Isabel Cristina) and a son (Dr. Enrique Zorrilla, a dentist.)

Doña Diana was born in the Presbyterian Hospital, Santurce, Puerto Rico, the heart of Santurce’s Condado section, on January 19, 1923, a few blocks from where the author attended K-12 graduated from Robinson School (Class of 1973). Coincidentally, Bernie Williams—co-recipient of the  1996 Pedrín Zorrilla Award for MLB excellence by a Puerto Rico big leaguer—was born in Presbyterian Hospital in 1968. The Condado section was known as “Cangrejo Arriba” (Upper Crab-shaped section). Conversely, the Loiza Street area of Santurce was “Cangrejo Abajo,” the Lower Crab-shaped section, on a centuries-old map of the area.

Manatí—The Athens of Puerto Rico

Diana was a native of Manatí, Puerto Rico, one of the Island’s 78 municipalities. Founded in 1738 in the north-central part of the Island, Manatí is called “Atenas de Puerto Rico” (Athens of Puerto Rico). When the author first met Diana 30 years ago, he joked that his undergraduate degree was from the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens—and his first two years at Berry College were in Rome, Georgia. Diana found it amusing that the author spent time in Rome and then Athens, Georgia! She also found it interesting that Alva “Bobo” Holloman, a 15-game winner for the 1952-53 Santurce Crabbers, owned a print shop in Athens, Georgia, when the author was a UGA student 1975-77.

“That 1952-53 Santurce team was special,” recalled Diana. “We traveled to Havana, Cuba, for the February 1953 Caribbean Series…our team was undefeated (6-0 W-L), and we overwhelmed opponents from Cuba (Havana Lions aka Reds), Panamá (Chesterfield Smokers), and Venezuela (Caracas Lions). Pedrín and the Santurce fan base was ecstatic.”

Doña Diana as Hostess in Santurce (Calle Bouret #506-Bouret Street #506)

The author and his wife (Donna) were Diana’s guests for nearly one week, 24 years ago (mid-November 1997), at her Calle Bouret #506 home in Santurce, the same residence where Pedrín invited his players, Natives, and Imports, Black and white, for meals, to celebrate victories, and so on. Diana was fascinated by Donna’s Southern accent, and they seemed to “hit it off just fine.” Moreover, the comfort level was so good that Donna and Diana talked about multiple topics from politics (Arkansan Bill Clinton’s Presidency); religion (travels and influence of charismatic Pope John Paul II), among other matters.

Diana shared stories about how she and Pedrín made sure that Bob and Dorothy Thurman (and other players) had comfortable living arrangements at a Calle Refugio house in the Miramar section of Santurce, where Santurce’s African-American Imports resided. Bob Thurman played 11 seasons with Santurce, 1947-48 to 1957-58; and part of 1959-60, with Ponce. His 120 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) home runs are still the most in League history, one ahead of José “Cheo” Cruz’s 119. “It was a big house,” said Dorothy Thurman (to the author). “A lady named Albertina did the cooking … went down with Bob several seasons …have a lot of fond memories … enjoyed it.”

Spirit of Cooperation

Doña Diana provided most of the photos used by the author in his 1999 book titled The Santurce Crabbers: Sixty Seasons of Puerto Rican Winter League Baseball. She made it possible for the author to write a book dedicated to her husband, highlighting the Santurce legacy of Josh Gibson, Roy Campanella, Willard Brown, Buster Clarkson, Junior Gilliam, Thurman, etc.

During a late November 1999 trip to Puerto Rico, Diana invited the author to have lunch with Orlando “Peruchín” Cepeda and Cepeda’s agent at her Calle Bouret home. Cepeda considered Pedrín to be his “second father,” and he [Cepeda] deeply respected Doña Diana. Earlier that summer, Cepeda was enshrined in Cooperstown, via a Veterans’ Committee vote, with former players such as Yogi Berra and Bill White providing some key affirmative votes. The author thanked Cepeda for introducing him to several MLB players three decades earlier, at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, while filming a documentary. (The author conversed with Jimmy Wynn, for example, and told him his birth date, 1967 Houston Astros statistics, etc.)

“Pedrín and I facilitated the use of our Mar Chiquita (section of Manatí) beach house for Bill White and his bride’s honeymoon when Bill played for Santurce,” recalled Diana. “Pedrín had a special relationship with ALL his players, and I supported my husband 100 percent. The Santurce Crabbers players, 1948-49 through December 1956 were an extension of my family, too.”

Centennial of Pedrín Zorrilla’s Birth

Iconic catcher Valmy Thomas talks at the Pedrin Zorrilla Centennial while author Tom Van Hynning listens (right).

A special ceremony took place at the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (Bar Association of Puerto Rico), in Miramar, November 9, 2005, 100 years after Pedrín Zorrilla’s birth in Manatí. It featured a panel, including Eduardo Figueroa—the first big-leaguer born in Puerto Rico to win 20 games (20-9 for 1978 New York Yankees), Cepeda, the author. Figueroa publicly thanked Pedrín for making it possible for him (Figueroa) to pitch for the 1969-70 Arecibo Wolves, after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam. A personal highlight was when Edwin Fernández gave the author a plaque, on behalf of Puerto Rico’s Sportswriters Association, for writing about the PRWL and related topics. But it was still crucial for the author to emphasize what Pedrín (and Diana) meant to the Santurce Crabbers players from the late 1940s through 1956.

Diana, again, hosted the author in Guaynabo, Alturas de Torrimar sub-division, for a few days, November 2005. Guaynabo is part of the San Juan MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), and Diana moved there to be closer to her daughter, Diana Margarita. It was remarkable to have tasty home-cooked meals such as arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) with carne guisada (Puerto Rican beef stew), perfectly cooked plantains, and so on. Diana looked well and alert at 82, and asked about the author’s mother, age 87, who would pass away at 88, on October 24, 2006. Paula S. Van Hyning was born on November 17, 1917; her mother lived to be 92 (1884-1976).

Saturday, June 30, 2012, was the author’s final in-person time with Doña Diana. Enrique Zorrilla picked the author up at his Condado hotel, and they drove to the National Military Ceremony in Hato Tejas, Bayamón, where the author’s parents are buried. Then, it was on to Guaynabo for lunch and a visit with Diana, in her Guaynabo home. However, the author spent more time visiting and conversing with Diana for the past two decades (1992 – 2012) than he ever did with his two aunts or maternal grandmother. On June 30, 2012, the author finally realized that Diana Diaz Gandía viuda (widow) de Zorrilla, was part of his family, regardless of geography or bloodlines.

Perhaps Herman Franks (1914-2009) said it best in the last two sentences of his 1999 Foreword in the author’s Santurce Crabbers book: “I miss my good friend, Pedrín. However, we talk to his widow, Diana, all the time, and that helps.” Franks managed the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers to their third Caribbean Series crown in five seasons. Thanks to Diana, Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame Viva Baseball! Bilingual (English-Spanish) Exhibit featured the Crabbers’ 1955 Caribbean Series Trophy. It has a lot of other historical memorabilia. http://mlb.mlb.com/content/printer_friendly/la/y2009/m05/d28/c5012882.jsp Willard Brown was posthumously inducted in Cooperstown in 2006, significant for the Zorrilla family as well.

Special thanks and appreciation to Doña Diana, the “First Lady” of the Santurce Crabbers, 1948-1956, for her friendship, kindness, and hospitality, over the years. Daughter (Diana Margarita) and son (Dr. Enrique Zorrilla) were most hospitable, too. Thanks to Orlando Cepeda, Herman Franks, Dorothy Thurman, and Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.

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