Before my first trip to Cuba I had three things I absolutely hxtad to do.
1. Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house.
2. Go fishing with an old man in the sea.
3. Play baseball.
I was able to do two out of the three but little did I know that one of them would end up changing my life.
It was the end of a hot and sun burnt day in Playa Giron, Cuba. When my friends Lewis (Australia), Nikolas (Switzerland), and I were walking home and saw an “organized” team playing baseball.
Here was my chance, to be able to experience something I wanted to do while in Cuba. We asked the manager if we could participate with them and he was hesitant at first but allowed us to play.
They had bats, gloves, balls, and even bases.
But the gloves were falling apart and some players using milk cartons as a way to field a grounder.
The bases? They were old bags that were originally used for flour.
Don’t even ask about the “baseballs”. I mean, they were baseballs but they were so old. Decrepit. Basically, brown from being used over and over again for so many years.
The kids ranged from 5 – 12 years old and their talent level was all over the place. Of course, the older kids were better but I was impressed by how the younger kids, 5 – 7 years old, already had strong, accurate arms.
There were three kids that stuck out to me with their talent. Andy, Leo, and Javi.
Leo and Javi were the top dogs on the diamond. They had the talent, the proper technique to field a groundball, and something that every good ball player has, confidence.
Leo was the best pitcher on the field. Throwing with his right arm with good speed and accuracy for a 12 year old.
Andy was slightly younger than Leo and Javi but he could hang with them. He was a quiet kid. It was hard to get a reaction out of him but his game spoke for himself.
But the all around best player on the field that day was, Javi.
At shortstop, he fielded groundballs with such ease and had a strong arm. Not to mention, a smooth, natural swing at the plate to go with it.
Practice was over, we took a team picture and said our goodbyes.
But, for me, it was just the beginning.
We were walking back to our house when I told my friends, “I’m going to start a baseball foundation to raise money and equipment for people to play baseball in Cuba.” With a smile and some confinement, they both looked at me and said, "hey man, go for it."
The biggest reason why I started the Cuba Baseball Foundation is because I noticed something in the kids.
They just wanted to play baseball.
Some were barefoot, others had no hat, and most of them didn’t even have their “own” glove. But, they just wanted to play.
No worries. No stress. Just being outside and playing with their friends. It reminded me a lot of my own childhood.
Despite the fact they barely had enough equipment to play, it didn't matter.
They shared the equipment with the other team. And when I saw that. Another thought hit me.
When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was play baseball. I didn’t have to worry about if we were going to have enough gloves, baseballs, or even a bat.
I saw the same joy in their eyes that I and so many others have when we play the game.
Playing baseball is more than just a game. The game teaches lessons that can be translated to life. It can keep people out of trouble. It can give people hope.
So, after I returned home from my first trip to Cuba I started the Cuba Baseball Foundation.
For the next 5 months we raised over $400 through GoFundMe and collected 180 baseballs, 40 pairs of cleats, 40 baseball gloves, 8 full sets of catchers equipment, 25 baseball bats.
Finally, the moment had arrived where we were going to help out people of all ages in Cuba, play baseball.
My friend, Nick Polega, and I checked six bags at JFK international airport. As we boarded our flight, I couldn’t help but think, “this is really happening”.
It turned out to be the most rewarding experience I have ever had in my life. The smiles, love, and warmth we received just for having baseball equipment is something I will never forget.
In Cuba, it’s not just kids who want to play baseball. The adults love it just as much. So we were able to set up games with other neighborhoods and as they say, “play ball”.
If you or anyone you know has baseball equipment not being used, please send us an email at, BTDT2016@gmail.com