Cuba: January 7th

Today started out bright, warm, and sunny, which means it was a great day for baseball. Back home baseball isn’t played during January since it is always too cold. After we were all done eating our daily breakfast with Carlos at the Residencia, we took a bus ride to Cojimar to see a youth baseball game. On the bus ride, our Cuban translator and tour guide, Ana, told us a story about how Ernest Hemingway helped to create the first children’s baseball team in Cuba in 1938. The team name was Las Estrellas de Gigi. Hemingway bought the property his house sits on in 1940 and promptly allowed the neighborhood kids to play baseball there. He even paid for errands to help out all of the kids’ families and he paid for most of the water supply. When we got to the baseball field, Ana also told us a lot about the current baseball project being held at this baseball field. It started 5 to 6 years ago and it now has a total of 60 kids from ages 5 to 10. They don’t have any funding, it’s free to play, and nothing extra is given to their program. However, good grades are needed in order to remain in the program. Back in Hemingway’s time, he used this field and drove kids there to compete with other kids in numerous baseball games. Jorge was the instructor of the youth baseball league and he let all of us play baseball with the kids. Stepping onto that baseball field brought back many memories for me. I played baseball throughout my childhood and when I was their age, I enjoyed playing baseball. I don’t play it that much anymore because I got hit by pitches too many times for my liking. But when I stood behind the plate playing catcher, I got a flashback to my childhood days as I saw all of the happy kids around me enjoying the sport of baseball. When I went up to bat and drilled a line drive down the 3rd base line, I saw the kids run after the ball so fast to try to get me out. When I was in the field, I loved running after the ball to get the batter out and I loved talking to the kids in the field with me as if they were my actual teammates from my childhood baseball teams. While my favorite baseball team is the Red Sox, my second favorite team is the San Francisco Giants. One of the kids had asked to try my Red Sox hat on, and I asked if I could try his Giants hat on. Seeing that kid with a wide smile on his face when he tried on my hat was what really made my day worthwhile. Baseball is such a great sport, and it’s a common language between Cuba and the U.S. We have been enemies for quite some time and only now are our countries fixing the relationship. Baseball is a key part in making this relationship better and Obama going to Cuba to watch the Tampa Bay Rays play a Cuban baseball team was a big step forward. It may be an old cliche, but making a kid’s day can really go a long way, especially when he and I have never met each other before today. We returned our hats to each other and I gave him a Babe Ruth league baseball before I left. There aren’t too many great Cuban baseball players in Major League Baseball, but who knows what may happen with these kids. Maybe one day one of them will be the next Big Papi. Or better yet, maybe one of them will be the next Aroldis Chapman, who is the best Cuban-born player in the MLB and is one of the best, if not the best, closers in the entire league. And like Big Papi and Aroldis Chapman, maybe one day they can be the ones that break the so-called “curse” for their respective team, in which they help their franchise win their first World Series Championship after a long history of losing. Cubans take a lot of pride in playing and watching baseball, so seeing one of their players win a World Series Title would be huge, and especially for their family. I have no doubt that I will remember this moment the most out of all of the events that we do in the two weeks that we are in Cuba. I wish I could have played baseball with them for the entire day. It was such a blessing to be there today and be able to relive my fun childhood. And we must always remember, Mel Ott hit 511 home runs.