(HAVANA, Cuba, 17 November 2010) – [AN] Some 40 US senior softball players are currently in Havana city playing a series of games against their Cuban counterparts, the second in two years, in a trip that aims at sharing their love for the sport and closing the gap between the two peoples.
By ABEL GONZALEZ ALAYON
“The first trip was very exciting. Cuba is a mystery for Americans,” said centerfielder Mike Frank, minutes before the fifth game between one Cuban Veteranos team and the Eastern Massachusetts Senior Softball (EMASS) C squad.
“This time we came to meet old friends. Cubans are great hosts and we really enjoy being here,” he adds, while stretching. Frank is 62 and is the leader of this C team, made up of 15 players 65 and older. They are wearing blue uniforms displaying the EMASS logo on top of a baseball where it reads Cuba.
Frank said they had arrived on Saturday, and Monday and Tuesday they had doubleheaders, as they are having today.
Outfielder Bill Green jokes when asked about the previous games results: “we won the first day; we didn’t win yesterday,” and laughs. This is his first trip to Cuba and he is having a great time.
“It is a shame we have to request for a travel license (to the US Treasure Department).” He said it is because of the old-timers in South Florida. “Florida is too important for the US elections and they don’t want us (American citizens) to come.”
Most of the American team says they would love to come to Cuba with their families, but getting a license is hard.
“Stu (Gray) handled the license process. You should ask him, but he is in another field,” adds Green and he gets back to business.
Meanwhile Cuban pitcher Enrique Piedra, a retired baseball star, now 82, warms up. “I am ready to win this time. Last year I pitched three games and won them all, but this Monday I was too wild and lost.”
Short-stop Aurelio Torres, an impressively fast 72, dubs this series as “the greatest thing we can do. I played last year against them, and we also shed sweat and blood on the field. They are great athletes and very humble.”
“We are just people. We should be able, Cubans and Americans alike, to share more events like this. This is not about politics. Our peoples can be friends,” says Carlos Alfonso, a mechanical engineer, who plays first base as a teenager. “They are real nice and this way we can get to know how they (Americans) really are.”
The umpire calls both team to the foul lines, where they hug and share jokes in broken Spanglish. The game starts, and they forget all about politics and age. Softball is all that matters now…and friendship.
After returning to the United States in 2009, Stu Gray wrote: “Our EMASS athletes who participated in the trip did so because of their love of the game as well the lure and panache of Cuba and were profoundly rewarded with one-of-a-kind memories for their boldness and spirit of adventure.”