Preparing for the Cuba vs Orioles 1999 series
Baseball fields around the world are managed totally different from what you might expect. Here, in the good ole USA, our stadiums have automatic irrigation systems, state of the art drainage systems, weather stations, hydraulic pitching mounds and high tech maintenance equipment! We are so fortunate!
In 1999, the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuba National Team in an exhibition in Havana, Cuba. The stadium and field needed upgrading before the deal could be completed so I was asked to put together a team to make it happen. The American crew consisted of AL Capitos, Budgie Clark, Greg Meeks and myself. It took 3 weeks to complete what could have been completed here in days. For example:
1. Irrigation – The field was hand watered with a fire hose. One person all night!
2. Aerfication- We brought over an aerfier on the barge from Miami with other equipment. The field was so hard you could drive a tractor trailer on it. The TORO arefier plugged over over 2 million cores, all of which were picked up by hand and wheelbarrows.
3. Topdressing – Unfortunately, the sand to fill the aerified holes had particles very large that could have injured a player had he slid in the grass. I asked that they “screen” the sand to make it a finer material. They set up 2 wooden sifting screens beside these huge mounds of sand and hand sifted 100 tons!
4. Field edging – The entire field was edged with a pocket knife and clippers. (When we opened the box from the barge that had the “Sears & Roebuck” $179.00 garden edger, the guys who tended the field were totally amazed at such a device.
(Click on the photo to see the crowd gather and watch budgie use the edger. After the first pass he turned it over to Pedro Almaneres who edged everyday with the unit!)
5. Batting cage – They didn’t have one to use for pre-game batting practice so they built one out of iron pipe from a photograph. It was in two pieces so it connected easily. They built it in less than a day plus all of the protective screens!
The people treated us with great respect as we did for them. The realization that this country operated under a dictatorship was difficult to comprehend until the game took place. Hundreds of people that had worked side by side with us had not been invited to the game. Thats when we realized things were more difficult than what we thought.
The Cuban people reminded me of how simple life can be and how to use what you have to make things work. A similar experience happened in Russia in 1989 where we took 2 teams of players from the minor leagues across the soviet union (At that time it was still the USSR… a few months later the wall came down and we joked that it was because of baseball) Just like Cuba, they had a simple life and simple ways but one could sense it was a very hard life as well. The dark side of the nation was well disguised during the diamond diplomacy tour. (That’s another blog.)
In past MLB exhibition games in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama we have had similar experiences complimented with great relationships with the people that made us very thankful for the simple tools of the trade that we so take for granted. MLBI takes the game to another country to grow it world wide. Not only do we grow the game but we build relationships through the sport.
Hand tools like rakes, shovels and tamps are sometimes difficult to locate and the local manufacturing and quality of these tools is not even close to our standards. When you think about the larger pieces of equipment we use like triplex mowers and chemical spray rigs, you might as well be talking about the moon when mentioning such equipment in some countries!.
Hard work, long days, and at the end of the day there was always a smile!