Results tagged ‘ Havana ’

2016 Cuba vs Rays Historic Game: A Case of Shovel Diplomacy

cuba field post renovation

A couple weeks ago,  MLB played a game in Havana, Cuba between the Tampa Rays and the Cuba national team.  What began as a goodwill baseball tour turned into something a bit more historic.  I started to hear a lot of chatter late last year regarding the potential of playing another MLB game between Cuba and a MLB team.  Commissioner Manfred even mentioned the Rays team  was selected but no official date was set for some time.   It was an on again off again event for a while. Then the White House called and planted a seed that eventually developed into President Barrack Obama i.e. @POTUS  (an family) attending a ballgame at Latino Americano stadium with Cuban President Raul Castro an a host of other dignitaries from both countries including Secretary John Kerry.    The event marked the first time a US sitting President visited the country since Calvin Coolidge went over on a battleship 80 years ago.  To say it was an honor to work this event would be difficult to put in words, But Im going to give it go.cuba first site work

What immediately became a critical component to making this event happen was ensuring we could upgrade the existing field and ballpark.  Everyone agreed the field an parts of the ballpark were in poor shape.  The idea of two countries who’ve been somewhat “distant” for many years began with the simple task of working together on solutions to ensure the playing surface was safe for both teams.    It was a challenging project made possible through a common goal that would guide us in rebuilding the field to meet everyone’s expectations.

mound prepping in cuba

“Shovel Diplomacy”

I’ve found in my 25 years planning these international events for MLB you learn a lot about people when you work side by side performing manual labor.    It’s funny how shovels, rakes and wheel barrels all work the same way in every country.   So that’s where our ballpark groundbreaking ambassadorial meetings began.  I’m sure everyone has seen photos of those groundbreaking events where they line up VIP’s and politicians holding gold-plated shovels.   We didn’t have those kind of shovels.   We had rusty square & round point shovels. (with Long , short and numerous broken handles).  There were no ties or suits. Just a bunch of Cubans an American with hoes and shovels.


Topdressing by hand

Let’s put that thought in perspective.   The Cuban country had (has) limited sports field related resources and we needed to renovate the country’s main sports stadium in about 6 weeks.  Core projects included removing the entire infield grass and raising the field grade, removing all the foul territory grass, fine grading then replanting both areas.  We also had to install a new warning track, new pitcher’s mound, bullpens, home plate and foul poles.  This type of renovation would be a fairly standard project in the USA except we are in Cuba.   SO…we shoveled, raked, wheel barreled and spread 60 tons of infield clay, 500 tons of warning track mix, 50 tons of topdressing …BY HAND.  We planted 8000 sq ft of grass on the infield BY HAND using 6×6 inch squares of Bermuda plugs.  FYI , there are no laser graders on this island, no big roll sod harvesters…just string lines  to level the grades before grassing the field.


Hand planting Bermuda plugs 5 weeks before game

I will have to say the Cuban people we had the privilege of working with over a six-week period were absolutely unbelievable!  We learned so much from each other.  Not only about field maintenance,  but about the world where potusthey live.  We shared meals daily.  We drank Cuban coffee out of a water bottle.  Drank Montero Narajaro soda.    We talked about our families, tipped some local Galion Rum ( that’s not gallon that’s Galion a Cuban brand) at the end of the day an laughed about simple daily events.  It was a true exchange of culture while building relationships between two people who love the game of baseball an shared the same passion for sportsturf management.

edging by hand

Oscar hand edging

As the event began to take shape we did not have full buy in by the Cuban government for delivering us materials so what resources they had were slow to come.  Eventually, once both country leaders confirmed they were attending the event, resources i.e: labor from the Varadara golf course, local products , a loader and assorted street rollers (and more wheel barrels) started to roll in daily.   Meanwhile we were working up a list of “Whitehouse” approved sportsturf equipment and materials that would be (legally) shipped to the country about 2 weeks before the event.   I mentioned earlier something about the poor condition of their local shovels and rakes.   Well , we barged over numerous new landscape rakes, tamps, shovels and hand tools etc…designed for baseball field maintenance.  We also brought our Cuban friends infield clays an conditioners from Duraedge and Diamond Pro.  We even shipped over a TORO Sand Pro, edgers , tillers , plate compactor , CoverMaster tarps, Beacon ballfield equipment , C&H cages,  OMG it was Feliz Navidad!!   To the point some of my Cuban friends began to cry.    Especially Oscar who had hand edged the entire field with a 3 ft machete for years.  He watched the new gas powered edger trim a line in minutes with disbelief.   I believe Juan was most excited about the big plastic tarp culvert for the new field tarp.   What they had before was a steel culvert that weighed 5 tons.  It was not movable unless you had 40 people.  They had no idea specialized hand tools had been designed for ballfields.  It was such a great feeling to give these products to the grounds staff at the stadium on behalf of MLB and the MLBPA.

Manual irrigation system

Having worked on this field for the Orioles vs Cuba game in 1999,  I had a pretty good idea what we were getting into.    In fact my old friends from that event Juan, Carton and Higinio were still working at the stadium.  Led by this group of my amigos we knew the people in Cuba were going to be 100% behind the project.   There were numerous moving parts to purchasing and sending equipment to Cuba.  Communication on the island was also difficult with no US cell phone service and what they had was very limited.   It took a HUGE team effort from a lot of folks including NYC MLB peeps (Mickey , James , Paloma and especially Jesse) to coordinate all the shipping docs, government approvals, and have the products arrive safely.

Of all the projects we had to complete , the infield renovation was the most challenging.  It required us to raise the homeplate grade 5 inches to level the area properly to meet MLB mound height requirements before resodding.  But that was the easy part.  The hard part was growing in the Bermuda turf grass plugs in a country that did not have testing labs to check local rootzone materials and topdressings an their  best fertilizers were for agricultural purposes, not sportsturf.  Great for tomatoes but grass…that was tough.   The 419 Bermuda sod was harvested from Indio Hatuey ( the countries agricultural center north of Havana near the beautiful Varadera golf course.)  Director de la OSTB,  Luis Oliveras  a local Turfgrass specialist had the turf grown to be the best it could be with the resources he had but once harvested it had a long way to go before it was playable.   The farm just had barely enough Bermuda plugs to finish the infield so the foul territory was grassed with a Zoysia.  The Zoysia and Bermuda were struggling from lack of consistent watering.  So we brought in reinforcements to help with the growin.  My good friend Cindy

murray on toroUnger from Palm Beach spent a month in Cuba.   A few days later, Luis an his team came up with an above ground irrigation system to assist with our water problem.   I even brought over Chad Price to take a look at the project. Chad Olsen and I assembled our Cuba Brightview sportsturf team which included STMA members Zach Severns Head GK from Augusta greenjackets, Anthony DeFeo Tennessee Smokies, Justin Sadowski from Potomac nationals,  Isaiah Lienau, NY Mets.    We also had a cameo visit from STM Neil Pate  ( dubbed director of paint).  Even old salemite Tracey Schneweis came over to the island to help us out.   It was a great team.   Chad and Eric Ogden had their hands full with the 2 WBC qualifier sites in Mexico and Panama.  Yes March was busy!

cuba field ready to go for 2016 eventThe field  played great as reported by several Rays players thanks to a massive team effort from both countries!   All in all, I made 5 visits to the country in 3 months which would end up totaling about 6 weeks on the island.   My Spanglish expanded but without Frans from INDER (our official government interpreter) we would have all been in trouble. He was so professional and ..healthy!

It was truly an honor to be a part of this historic event between our two countries but what I will take away from this more than its historical value are the friendships that were built to last a forever.  #amigosforlife #shoveldiplomacy

One great group of people!

1st Field Clinic in Cuba Builds Relationships

As part of the USACuba Friendly Game Series this week,  we held the 1st MLB Field Clinic in Havana this week.  The Cuban Baseball Federation invited us to lecture on baseball field maintenance at Estadio Latino Americano.  All 16 pro clubs from the country had representation at the clinic.  What these guys have to work with would amaze many of you.  Picture yourself having only a residential riding mower, 4 rakes, 4 shovels, no tarp, no clay, no soil conditioner, weed control, ant control, etc…. to prepare for an international tournament in front of thousands of people.    These guys do this everyday.  I just love the passion the people in Cuba exhibit for the game of baseball.  That passion was also  evident in the groundskeepers that care for the fields.   I have had the privilege of traveling to this country several times.

It was the first time all these guys were together and you would have thought they had known each other forever.  We did a slide show to talk about materials and maintenance processes then went to the field for hands on training. Typically hands-on means most are watching but this event had all of the guys heavily involved.  They really enjoyed the Sports Turf Management slides ( WWW.STMA.ORG ) as they were translated in Spanish.   Such a great exchange between friends in sportsturf.  Hearing stories about their fields and issues was no different than sitting in a room with my peers in the states.

They have created a pretty good clay for the island.  Drains well and is designed to wick water past a certain point.  Then it will firm up.  On opening night of the series, we had an inch of rain and puddles of water all over the infield.  With no big tarp to cover the field and we still played in under two hours.

Fun stuff.   Thanks to Ellier, Chad, Juan and the entire Latino Americano grounds crew for their  help.