In the winter of 1999, I was asked by MLB officials Sandy Alderson to accompany him and Lou/John Angelos to Cuba to evaluate the Estadio Americana Stadium in Havana for a possible exhibition game with the Baltimore Orioles and there national team.
Without hesitation I agreed and it became one of the greatest experiences both professionally and personally that I have ever been a part of in the game of baseball! Before leaving the US we were met at the airport by a government official and provided a letter acknowledging that it was "OK" for us to go.
After the 25 minute plane ride from Miami to Havana we were met by Cuban officials and offered a "mohito" and or a rum and coke! I knew this was going to be a fun event from that day forward.
We finished touring the stadium and hotels and developed a game plan for pulling off the event. Watching Sandy Alderson negotiate the deal at a table with 10 Americans and 20 Cubans was remarkable. If you recall, ESPN televised the game worldwide. They had to barge equipment over from Miami as well as most of our field equipment. I still remember game day watching Fidel Castro march across the field just before the game and walk directly to the Orioles dugout to shake the hand of Albert Bell!
The game was a success but my fondest memory of the event was developing friendships with the local citizens. We were there for about 3 weeks and the hospitality and kindness we were shown by the Cuban people was truly inspiring.
Everyone had a "can-do" attitude and you have to realize, Havana is a city of 2.5 million. When someones 1956 chevy broke down on the road, which happened several times, people would get out of there vehicles and help them get it rolling again. Everyone helped everyone…even when it came to preparing the stadium for this game. There would be thousands of people in the stadium on some days just watching us prepare the stadium and field.
On one occasion during the renovation, we had to core areify the field because it was so hard, but did not have a mechanical way to pick up the cores. Our US groundscrew Budgie Clark, Al Capitos and Greg Meeks worked side by side with the Cuban groundcrew. (See photo) The aerifing machine creates about 2 million cores on a regular baseball field. Juan Menares, stadium groundskeeper told me not to worry they will pick them….and they proceeded to gather every single one …by hand …and wheelbarrow!!!
So to answer the question,
"Should Cuba be allowed to play in the WBC?"
Personally, I hope the US government allows Cuba to participate in the world baseball classic this march. I know our government has political issues with Fidel but this event is not for him. It’s for the fans of baseball worldwide…including the citizens of Cuba who are some of the best baseball fans in the world. Denying the team to play in this tournament is sending the wrong message to the world about who the American people really are. I understand that Fidel did some bad things years ago and people who were forced to leave the country have a high degree of dislike for him. Lets look at the big picture…We are currently having to rebuild relationships in Europe with allies due to current war issues and the U.S. took care of the threats from Cuba 40+ years ago!! Let’s not drag baseball into these type of politics. Its a sport that encourages team play and should be used to open doors not keep them closed.
Allowing the Cubans to leave there country and play in a tournament before the world in other countries would be a very small step towards building a better world for us all. Lets show the good side of our country through our national past time. Lets make it a true world baseball classic with no borders.
God bless everyone this Christmas around the world!
Tis the season for spreading good will and sharing stories of how people in the world are working together to make it a better place for people in the baseball industry.
Recently, there was an announcement regarding the Brickman Group www.brickmangroup.com partnering with the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to help with worldwide field improvements and development. Our sports turf team will help with evaluations and field maintenance training for the grant recipients. http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/press_releases/press_release.jsp?ymd=20051213&content_id=1281527&vkey=pr_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb
I can not begin to tell you how excited I am about this wonderful partnership. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund (BTF) www.baseballtomorrowfund.com has been around for several years providing grants to help improve baseball fields around the world. I have had the chance to work with the BTF on a few projects over the years and now we have the ability to offer even more for the baseball industry in an effort to improve the field of play for all ages and levels!
Be sure to check out the BTF website in the near future for information that will help groundskeepers of all levels in maintaining there fields. The Brickman Group is a national company that has well over 130 branches nationwide and this type program is right up there alley as it relates to supporting baseball field improvements in the community. I consider myself very fortunate to work for a great company that supports these type of programs.