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

Arriving in the capital

Late night flight from Cancun to Havana was aboard a passenger plane "Aero Mexico", built by the Dutch "Fokker-100", which is likely to have been in service since the late 1980s. It was spacious and quiet, and the air travelers was a new feature. About 45 minutes of flight hours of bilingual & # 39; waking passengers prepared to approach and then something was said about the "fumigatsyyu" I did not catch. I asked one passenger, what it means, and before he could answer, I saw other passengers trying to cover your nose and mouth collars, scarves and hands as heavy chemical mist that blurred at us from the upper compartments. It seems that the Cuban government has insisted that any cargo that comes from Mexico, should be sprayed with disinfectant before it be allowed to land. Apparently, the passengers are also considered cargo.

None of us knew what to expect when around 11 pm local time at the airport José Martí, our group of 24 Americans arrived in Havana. A 20-minute shuttle to the hotel did not show much interest and landscapes; the city was only dimly lit spreading functional sodium streetlights. However, through the window of the bus could be seen billboards and murals – all brightly painted slogans that proclaim the blessing of unity, party, socialism and revolution. Whether it was by design that even in the late hours, when it was dark and clogged on board the message about "Revolution" could still be so nice to see a shadow on the streets?

The hotel in which we stayed, was exposed as a four star, but the appearance and lobby looked clean and modern, but the trip to the room and found a worn stained carpets, patching, unpainted walls and the unmistakable smell of mold. The consistent water pressure in the building were injured, and the bed was hard as a picnic table, but other than that, it was comfortable dwelling. After 18-hour journey, I spent my first night in Havana in a calm drowsiness.

The next morning, looking out of the window of the 3rd floor, I was surprised to see how close the destroyed Old Havana. In every direction I saw buildings blackened by decades of mold, in various conditions of decay or destruction of almost and still lived. Laundry hung on clothes lines improvised from the balconies of the buildings, which would otherwise have been abandoned or condemned. It took me a minute to realize what I see: it was the capital of the nation in which half a century has not been repaired, washed and did not even have a place of any non-governmental city structure, which was dated 1959, I realized that I was far away from Starbucks. It was Cuba. This communist dictatorship of the Third World, with the last remnants of the Cold War, which I learned in school, which until recently led the best-known (and has long lived by) bearded revolutionary Marxist in the world, the very old Fidel. Suspected that looking at the spectacular, but spoiled the architecture that, due to my surprise and excitement in the weeks prior to this trip, I may have too romanticized this adventure. And not knowing exactly what I get here in the stomach there is an undesirable stimulation. When I looked at the narrow lane where the front of a small, dirty market formed a morning shopper, I wondered, I'll be back to the airport the next day, moving my privileged ass grynga to California, I'm sorry, I drove up to this depressing place. Fortunately, this gloomy impression on my part would be only a foretaste of failure and resolve soon. I would have quickly found a comfort zone in these foreign surroundings, and instead of my experiences have formed a strange look and a lasting impression about the country and people.

softball diplomacy

I was part of Cuba as a member of a team of senior softball US / Cuba, which consists of 13 players, "older", starting with the youngest (58 years) and older (76). We were scheduled to play a series of 4 games against senior Cuban counterparts. During our visit to Cuba was not a senior softball league, so we did not know exactly who or how many different teams will play and under what conditions. We just know when we got there. The excursion was organized as a kind of benevolence, the practice of the gulf formed by the late Bob Weinstein, then president of USA-Kuba, LLC and founder of US – Cuba Sports Experiences. Last year, Bob brought to Cuba other US softball teams to his untimely death, but this was the first "big" team, which was formed solely for the purpose of a trip to Cuba to play softball. We do not have All-Star team in any way, but simply a collection of fans sobichnyh time, inclination and finances for the trip. Before on the porch & # 39 teams will play one or two of practice, but we realized that we make more ambassadorial harness than a competitive softball team. Our group managed to pack an additional 250 pounds of clothes, medicines and personal items that we planned to distribute while we were there, making this trip a combination hurricane relief with sport and adventure.

For our first game we came out of our bus on the "field of sports practice," near the stadium Juan Ella in the outer harbor and passed through an empty area to the softball field. Most of the activities stopped in the park, and the locals looked at the Americans when we moved slowly, two hundred yards to the dugout visitors wearing hats and knitted products and the United States and Cuba were carrying bags of equipment. The Cuban team warmed up when we arrived and looked at us warily. We put a big smile on his face impatient and quickly introduced themselves, creating pictures and expressed their gratitude and satisfaction for participating in this event. When they saw that we no longer stand on the friendship and camaraderie than fierce competition, the collective nervousness and self-restraint, which we found quickly gave way to friendliness and enthusiasm. The ceremony was held before the first game, and a representative of the Cuban Softball Federation gave a description of this issue as an important step in maintaining the goodwill between sporting countries. We have handed over the Cuban Olympic pins in exchange for a commemorative pins that we gave them. We felt a true communication between us and the Cubans, and the smiles and expressions we saw on their faces, we could say that they, too, felt it.

We learned that the Cuban squad, in which we will play, has been successfully compiled, as a senior softball in Cuba was still unheard of. In fact, the idea of ​​the league, which was comprised of players far beyond the premiership & # 39; er minister, was … well, a stranger to them. On the surface they looked like a rag group of elderly Cuban gentleman, which were uniforms, that they had to keep up with the 60s-70s, judging by their faded, worn-out conditions. Not all of them were baseball gloves or broken, so we shared with them what we had, and these exchanges were carried out between the equipment supply.

If the Cubans took to the field, all of the opinion that they can be easily perceived as competitors quickly disappeared. They performed on the clear principle, making a few mistakes in defense and obviously proud of their work. Improper throwing or missed the cutoff to attract the wrath of colleagues. Later we found out that most members of the team at one time in his youth played organized baseball in Cuba, and some of them even got into the national team of Cuba. baseball is national sport in Cuba, football is not on the ratings and participation. The game itself – a favorite topic for lively debate in city parks and the baseball season is accompanied by nationalist enthusiasm, so this dedication to the sport affected the Cuban games. We have four games, but went only three because Hurricane Paloma crossed the center of the island at the time of our visit, bringing rain and winds to the western edge of Cuba, resulting in one of our competitions was canceled were planned. In all three matches, we won, but, under the terms of the unprecedented circumstances, the results were respected by the slow steps and standards have been unimportant. After the last game, our organizers arranged to deliver a couple of beers in our dugout – an act that is strictly prohibited under normal circumstances, but on this occasion this procedure was obviously canceled – and we all stuck and laughed, jumped a few cold, posed for pictures and exchanged uniforms, sweatshirt, gloves, hats and other storage items. Two players I met, brought the program to the international competitions, in which they played when they were young. They had to share with us, and it was very touching to get something that was very dear to them. I asked the Cuban players to make signings in the covers of these programs, and they are all happy to have committed. In this amazing atmosphere of brotherhood and respect it felt that the "normal" relationship between the US and Cuban citizens can be, if the political gulf between us somehow disappear.

After our series on the Cuban Softball Federation met with the senior officials of the American Association of softball, who joined us on the trip and together discussed the possibility of the formation of the Major League in Cuba. We are happy to think that our trip and experience can become the springboard needed to form a league for these outstanding Cuban players. As it turns out, the Cuban Federation later announced that next year in Havana will be played the first annual US-Cuban senior softball classic, which will feature four new Cuban senior softball team. Thus, it turns out that the idea of ​​their own League has become a reality for seniors Kubanos when they again come out on the field to play softball, or say in Cuba: "Las Grandes Pelotas".