Stairway to Havana – Softball Diplomacy and Yankee Standpoint (Part 1)

Arriving In the Funds

The late evening flight from Cancun to Havana was aboard an Aero Mexico Dutch-designed Fokker-100 passenger jet that most probable experienced been in company given that the late 1980’s. It was roomy and quiet as well as it experienced a attribute new to this air traveler. About 45 minutes into the 1 hour flight, a bi-lingual announcement ready the travellers for approach and then anything was mentioned about “fumigation” that I didn’t catch. I questioned a fellow passenger what that meant and ahead of he could respond to, I saw other passengers attempt to cover their noses and mouths with their shirt collars, scarves and hands as a hefty chemical mist sprayed down on us from the overhead compartments. It would seem the Cuban govt has insisted that any cargo coming from Mexico has to be sprayed with disinfectant just before staying permitted to land. Seemingly, the travellers are regarded cargo as well.

None of us knew what to anticipate when our team of 24 Individuals arrived bug-eyed and germ-absolutely free at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport all around 11pm regional time. The 20 minute bus trip to the resort didn’t reveal considerably in the way of sights or scenery the town was dimly lit with only a scattering of functional sodium streetlights. What could be clearly witnessed by the bus home windows on the other hand were the billboards and murals – all brightly painted slogans proclaiming the blessings of Unity, Celebration, Socialism and Revolution. Was it by structure that even in the late several hours, when all was dark and boarded, that the concept of “La Revolucion” could nonetheless be witnessed so obviously on the shadowy streets?

The hotel in which we stayed was billed as four-star and the exterior and lobby did feel clean and modern but the vacation up to the home revealed worn and stained carpets, patched, unpainted walls and the unmistakable scent of mould. Dependable water tension in the developing was hit-or-skip and the bed was really hard as a picnic table but other than that, the accommodations were being comfy. Soon after an 18 hour travel day, I put in my very first evening in Havana in peaceful slumber.

The upcoming early morning, wanting out from the 3rdfloor window, I was startled to see how close to in the vicinity of-damage Aged Havana appeared. In each direction I saw structures blackened by many years of mildew, in various states of decay or around-collapse and nonetheless nonetheless inhabited. Laundry was hanging to dry on makeshift clotheslines from balconies of properties that would usually seem to be abandoned or condemned. It took me a minute to comprehend what I was seeing: this was a nation’s funds in which no non-governmental city construction pre-courting 1959 experienced been fixed, washed or even marginally managed for fifty percent a century. I realized I was a very long way from Starbucks. This was Cuba. The genuine third globe, final-vestige-of-the-chilly-war Communist dictatorship I figured out about in faculty, which was ruled – till just lately – by that most well-known (and longest tenured) bearded revolutionary Marxist in the environment, aged Fidel himself. I suspected as I stared out at the impressive but dilapidated architecture, that in my surprise and excitement in the weeks previous this journey, I may possibly have more than-romanticized this experience. And not realizing specifically what I was finding into listed here gave my abdomen an unwelcome churn. As I looked down to the slim side-road in which a morning line of shoppers was forming in entrance of a tiny, dingy industry, I puzzled if I would be back again at the airport the future working day, hauling my privileged gringo ass back to California, sorry that I experienced traveled all the way down to this depressing area. But thankfully, this bleak 1st impact would turn out to be only misplaced apprehension on my component and would shortly dissolve. I would swiftly uncover a ease and comfort zone in these foreign surroundings and in put of my misgivings, there would sort as an alternative a shocking standpoint and an indelible perception of a country and a individuals.

Softball Diplomacy

I was entering Cuba as a member of the Usa/Cuba Senior Softball workforce comprised of 13 “Senior” gamers ranging from the youngest (58 yrs of age) to the oldest (76). We were being scheduled to play a sequence of 4 video games against senior Cuban counterparts. At the time of our take a look at, there was not a Senior Softball League in Cuba so we did not know just who or how a lot of unique teams we would perform or below what playing circumstances. We would just obtain out when we bought there. The tour was arranged as a kind of goodwill, arms-throughout-the-gulf experience fashioned by the late Bob Weinstein, then President of United states-Cuba, LLC and founder of United states of america – Cuba Sporting activities Encounters. Bob experienced introduced other U.S. softball groups to Cuba before his premature demise previous calendar year at age 66, but this was the 1st “senior” workforce to variety solely for the objective of traveling to Cuba to engage in softball. We weren’t an All-Star crew by any suggests, but merely a selection of softball hobbyists with the time, inclination and finances to make the journey. 1 or two procedures have been held by the team prior to we remaining, but we recognized that we comprised much more of an ambassadorial junket than a aggressive softball staff. Our team managed to pack an further 250 lbs of outfits, medicines and own merchandise that we prepared to distribute while we were there generating this excursion a blend hurricane reduction/sports adventure.

For our initially sport, we disembarked from our bus at the “Athletics Apply Discipline” future to Juan Ealo Stadium in outer Havana and walked throughout a vacant ton to the softball field. Most action at the park arrived to a halt and the locals stared at the People in america as we quietly crossed the two hundred yards to the Website visitors dugout putting on our United states-Cuba hats and jerseys and carrying our machines bags. The Cuban team was warming up when we arrived and was seeking around at us warily. We set major keen smiles on our faces and promptly launched ourselves, posed for photographs with each other and expressed our gratitude and enjoyment to be a element of this party. When they observed that we were much more intent on friendship and camaraderie than intense opposition, the collective nervousness and reticence we detected altered rapidly to friendliness and enthusiasm. A ceremony of kinds was held ahead of the initially match and a Cuban Softball Federation official spoke describing this celebration as an important action in the continuing goodwill among sporting international locations. We ended up specified Cuban Olympic pins in trade for the commemorative pins we gave to them. We felt a genuine fellowship among us and the Cubans and we could tell by the smiles and expressions we saw on their faces that they felt it too.

We uncovered that the Cuban squad we would be taking part in experienced been unexpectedly assembled due to the fact senior softball was nonetheless unheard of in Cuba. In reality, the idea of a league comprised of gamers considerably earlier their key was…effectively, overseas to them. From their physical appearance, they appeared like a rag-tag group of elderly Cuban gentleman, some wearing uniforms they have to have stored considering that the ’60’s & ’70’s, judging by their pale, worn conditions. Not all of them had baseball gloves or bats, so we shared with them what we had and produced these exchanges of tools amongst innings.

When the Cubans took the area, any notions that they could be taken evenly as opponents swiftly vanished. They executed on the industry in crisp, elementary manner, creating couple glitches defensively and definitely having pride in their overall performance. An errant toss or a missed cutoff would attract the ire of fellow gamers. We later discovered that most of the crew members played organized baseball in Cuba at some place in their youth and a several of them even manufactured it to the Cuban Countrywide Crew. Baseball is the countrywide sport in Cuba, significantly out-rating soccer in participation and desire. The Activity alone is a favored subject for spirited discussion in town parks and the baseball year is followed with nationalistic fervor, so this commitment to the sport was mirrored in the Cubans’ play. We experienced 4 game titles scheduled but only played a few for the reason that Hurricane Paloma crossed the centre of the island during our visit bringing rain and winds to Cuba’s western finish, creating one particular of our contests to be canceled. We ended up bested in all 3 video games, but the scores were being respectable by sluggish-pitch specifications and seemed unimportant, given the unprecedented circumstances. Right after the last match, our organizers organized for a few scenarios of beer to be shipped to our dugout – an act which is strictly forbidden under ordinary circumstances but on this celebration, the ordinance was seemingly waived – and we all lingered and laughed, popped a several chilly ones, posed for more pics and exchanged uniform shirts, sweatbands, gloves, hats and other memorabilia. Two of the gamers I achieved had brought programs from worldwide competitions they experienced played in when they have been youthful. It was all they had to share with us and it was very touching to be given some thing that was so plainly quite pricey to them. I questioned the Cuban gamers to autograph the inside of covers of those programs and they were all really joyful to oblige. In this astounding atmosphere of fraternity and respect, just one had the sense of what ‘normal’ relations involving American and Cuban citizens may be, if the political chasm between us had been to in some way disappear.

Following our series on the area, the Cuban Softball Federation met with officers from the U.S. Senior Softball Affiliation who experienced joined us on the trip and collectively they talked about the possibilities of forming a Senior League in Cuba. We ended up joyful to imagine our journey and knowledge could be the springboard desired in the development of a league for these superb Cuban players. As it turns out, the Cuban Federation afterwards declared the very first Annual US-Cuban Senior Softball Traditional will be performed in Havana the up coming yr, featuring the 4 new Cuban Senior Softball groups that have been formed. So it appears that the League-Of-Their-Possess thought has develop into a fact for some senior Cubanos as they acquire the discipline all over again to play softball, or they say in Cuba, “Las Grandes Pelotas.”