Documentary, Journey to Cuba, to Premiere June 16

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A documentary being produced about the Vermont team’s historic trip is set to premiere June 16 with a screening at Contois Auditorium at City Hall, Burlington, Vermont, beginning at 7 p.m.

The event is free and all are welcome!

Check out the trailer in the post below.

Team Vermont Recognized at Statehouse

Players and coaches of the Vermont baseball team visited the statehouse today for the passing of a house concurrent resolution honoring the team for its historic journey to Havana, Cuba.

The resolution was sponsored by representatives from Burlington, Bristol, Winooski, Essex, Shelburne and Hinesburg.

The full resolution can be read here, in PDF form: H.C.R.390

The players received a standing ovation by the representatives following the passing of the resolution.

The team was greeted by Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott upon arrival to the capitol, and was also congratulated by Governor Peter Shumlin during the visit.

Day 6: Victory, Playa del Este, and Farewells

We woke up early this morning, as we had to arrive at the field for 8:30 am for a very special and important game. Our competition was La Habana–the provincial all-star team containing the best players in the entire city. The team is also essentially the 11-12 year old academy team for the Havana Industriales. Following Cuban tradition, we started the game with a skills competition, something always done before all-star games. The competition included four categories: throws to second base by the catchers (for accuracy), throws from centerfield to home plate, running from home to first, and running around all the bases. Speedy Vermonter Cyrus Perkinson earned the only American victory in any of the competitions, but it was a solid win nonetheless. Perkinson picked up first place in the home to first base running challenge, with a blistering time of 3.29 seconds.

The game started with a unique experience. In order to create a fun, competitive, and balanced team, five Cuban players, and five American players switched sides. The kids had fun interacting with their new teammates and playing alongside them in the field. There were some incredibly talented Cuban ballplayers. The Havana team included the best catcher in the nation, Julio Cesar Perez, and the second best pitcher, Marcos Reyes. He was throwing scorching fastballs the entire team he pitched, and almost struck out the side. Coach Tom Simon played catch with him and said his hand was swollen after. He later asked him at lunch how fast he pitches, and Reyes let him know that he reaches 70 mph!

Head coach Jim Carter was pleased with the decision to mix the teams. He said it was a terrific way to end the week.

It will be interesting to watch these Cuban players in the future. Some of them had tremendous talent, and several could possible be Major League caliber in the future.

The game was a first for the Vermonters–a victory against one of the best teams around. The final score was 13-5, a solid victory for the American team (with a little help from the Cubans). Ozzie Kost had a solid play at third base and Nolan Simon contributed some sharp pitching and catching. Simon’s highlight of the game was striking out a top Cuban slugger in the third inning. Ollie Pudvar continued his hot streak at the plate, leading the way for the Americans by going five for his last six at-bats. Tate Agnew played several strong innings at first base, making key plays and snags. Eli Bostwick was also a top contributer, catching the blazing fast Cuban pitchers for the last four innings.

 

For those of you who were unaware (I forgot to mention this in earlier posts), one of our players, Carter Monks, was injured in the second game. He hurt his knee while stretching out to make a catch at first base. He is unable to play, but doing very well. The Cubans have been treating him very graciously, and had him throw out the first pitch today.

After out ballgame we headed off to lunch with the Habana all-stars. WE enjoyed a delicious meal with the team, and Coach Tom Simon received a one-of-a-kind gift from Yosvani Aragon, a great Cuban pitcher. He gave Simon the final jersey he had ever worn in a baseball game, and signed it. Wow, what a gift!

Our next stop–Playa del Este, for a brief but enjoyable dip in the ocean. Everyone enjoyed the refreshing and salty waters at the nicest beach in Havana. It was a great way to finish off the week.

Our bus speed off from the beach to bring us to our farewell dinner. We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner. Jorge and Lorraine were there and provided us with certificates from the Marti Center. It was a great moment of reflection on this wonderful journey we have all experienced together. I cannot wait to share with you all the great photos and videos I have taken this week. While I have not posted any photos tonight, as soon as I arrive back in the United States I will provide you with the photos that accompany all these posts.

I am posting from the Havana Airport. Our flight will in half an hour, and while we all had a fantastic adventure, we are looking forward to heading home.

Goodbye from Havana for the final time!

Day 5: Estadio, Esquina Caliente, and More Baseball

NOTE: This post has been updated to include the photos I was previously unable to upload.

After another unique Cuban breakfast, our bus drove off from the Hotel Bella Habana. We thought we were going to see the Museum of the Revolution, but we were in for a surprise. Our guide and translator, Lester, had arranged for us to visit the Estadio Latinoamericano, the stadium where the Orioles and the Rays played the Cuban National Team. It is the largest and nicest stadium in the entire country, and home to the Havana Industriales during the winter. The stadium had been extensively visited for President Obama’s visit last month. We saw the spot where Obama sat during the historic game, and even had the opportunity to walk onto the playing field. It was a great surprise and an incredible experience!

Our bus picked us up at the stadium and brought us to another exciting place–the capital district. We saw the national capital building and the national theatre, all incredible pieces of architecture. Twenty percent of cars in Cuba are classic American cars, yet in this neighborhood, it was close to 100. They were parked all over the place, and every single car driving by was a shiny, colorful classic. The main reason behind our stop was to visit “La Esquina Caliente” or the Hot Corner. This is an area in the central park where men gather to talk and argue about baseball. The people in the park were not too talkative with us at first, but that all changed very quickly once we started to give them baseball cards. Coach Tom Simon had a lot of fun chatting with them about local Cuban teams.

Our next stop was Playa stadium, where we faced our toughest test yet on the baseball diamond. The team we played was Marianao, and they could hit, pitch, and play some excellent baseball. The final score was 15-5, but a fun game nonetheless. We had another visit from a Cuban baseball star. This time it was Yosvani Aragon, a pitcher for the Gallos de Sancti, who played between 1997 and 2007. He is considered one of the greatest pitchers in Cuban baseball history. Centerfielder Ollie Pudvar lead Team Vermont on both offense and defense. Pudvar caught a fly ball and threw a runner out a home for a double play in the 6th inning, and made a highlight-reel diving catch in center. He reached base four times, collecting three solid hits and a base on balls. Ozzie Kost was also a key part of the American’s defense, making a stellar play at third base.

Tate Agnew contributed two solid innings of pitching, and was relieved by Cyrus Perkinson, who closed out the game on the mound for Vermont. Agnew picked up a handful of strikeouts against some of the best sluggers in the region.

Today’s game maybe have been a challenge, but according to Vermont Coach Jim Carter, it was a victory for friendship and the sport of baseball

“The whole experience for everyone involved is just incredible,” Carter said.

Today’s game may have been a high scoring and challenging affair, and as many of you know, the Vermonters are slated to take on the provincial all-star team tomorrow. The coaching staff has decided to mix the teams to ensure a fun and competitive experience. Five Cuban players and five Americans will join the opposing team. It will be a great experience for the kids to play together.

After another day in the books, our trip will be coming to a close before we know it. I can tell you all that it has been the experience of a lifetime, something I know everyday when I see the faces of the kids on the baseball diamond.

Tomorrow we will play our final game at 10:30 AM and then head to experience the beach for the first time. This will be followed by a final dinner.

I would like to thank all my readers for taking the time to take in my writing and experiences in Cuba. My blog has surpassed 16,000 hits! Please continue to share my blog and help spread the word!

 

Day 4: History, Baseball Stars, and Cannons

NOTE: This post has been updated to include the photos I was unable to post originally.
We started off the day heading to the Jose Marti Center to partake in a lecture about the history of Cuban baseball. Our teacher was a well-known broadcast journalist, who reports on baseball games for the national sports channel. He covered the game between the Rays and the National team, and was able to go to Rogers Centre in Toronto for a game. We learned about each of the 16 teams in the Cuban national league, and each of their mascots. To be able to enter the country as Americans, we have academic visas. The lectures we attend at the ceremony are intended to fulfill this requirement.
We boarded the bus ahead of schedule (rare in Cuba), and were able to fit in an extra stop–Lennon Park. This tree lined square is centered around a metal statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench and wearing a real pair of glasses. There is a person who works there, observing the statue, and making sure nobody takes the glasses. Right as we arrived, a huge crowd of tourists arrived hailing from European countries such as Germany.
The park was only a quick stop before our main destination–Playa stadium, where we would play our third baseball game. I was able to get some fantastic photos and video clips, as the baseball commissioner brought me onto a nearby rooftop to take photos and film (see pictures below for the view). The game was much better, the team has greatly improved. Ollie Pudvar lead the Vermont team’s lineup, slugging an inside the park home run. He started on the mound for the Americans, who held the Cubans to no runs for the first few innings. Besides one rough inning (when Vermont gave up nine runs), it was a close, competitive, and well-played ballgame. I believe the final score was 9-3. While the two teams may have been competitors during the two hour ballgame, at the end they were one. The players of both teams gathered around, mixed up together, holding the flags of both our countries. Americans holding the Cuban flag, and Cubans holding the American flag. It was truly symbolic of the lasting friendship that has been formed over the course of these few days.
During the game, the ballfield received a surprise visit by some of the best ballplayers the country has ever seen. Omar Linares, who we were told is the best player the country has ever produced, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. In addition, the best third baseman in the country was there, along with the starting catcher on the Havana Industriales and the Cuban National Team. Needless to say, many autographs were signed and requested along with many photos.

Following the game we enjoyed another delicious dinner at La Lucita with the opposing team. The dinner was followed by a trip to a historic 17th century Spanish fort, where we experienced a cannon firing ceremony. What a day of adventure we had today! I hope you all come back to see what we experience tomorrow.

 

Day 3: Hemingway, Playa, and Streetart

We started off our day with an eyeopening bus ride to Ernest Hemingway’s farm. The bus took us through many poor and rundown neighborhoods, showing us a different side of Havana. After the short drive, we arrived at the Hemingway estate and began our tour. Our tour guide’s name was Tatiana, and I have been told that back in the day Russian names were common here (a tribute to their allies). We toured his home and the various sites on the property. His home included his typewriter, and many heads from animals he had shot. The flowers were in full bloom and the colorful orchids made the gardens look spectacular. Outside the home we headed up Hemingway’s tower where he used to write. From the top you could see a sweeping view of the Havana skyline. After viewing the tower, we headed to see his swimming pool and his wooden boat, which he would take from Florida to come to Cuba.
After our visit at the Hemingway property, many of us purchased wooden marlin carvings from a street vendor right outside. We also enjoyed a unique cultural experience–a working sugar cane press right outside in the street. The men working the press gave us samples of sugar cane and fresh juice. Everyone enjoyed the delicious drinks!
We boarded the bus from Hemingway house to head right to the game. The opposing team this time was Playa, which means beach in spanish, and the game was at their home field. The field is located right next to a beach, and many of us headed over to enjoy the tropical waters while the players warmed up. While the sun was shimmering on the aquamarine waters, some of us explored and collected sea glass. The pregame ceremonies were exciting and welcoming again, as this was a new team we had not yet played. They were gracious and kind hosts. I learned that the announcer at our games was the announcer at the historic baseball game between the Cuban National Team and the Tampa Bay Rays during President Obama’s visit. I was lucky enough to interview him after the game, and am excited to bring this video clip back. In addition to the announcer, the red, white, and blue banners at the field were also from the stadium of the historic game. There were countless parallels between these two ballgames, and it is clear these kids are making history here in Cuba.
People are excited to see Americans, and it is evident that the beginnings of friendship are starting to form between our two nations. I notice American flags all over the place--inside cars, on apartment balconies, and on buildings. While there are few Americans here now, things are changing, and soon Cuba will be more accessible. The Cuba we were seeing today is a very different Cuba than the one we would have seen a few years ago. A person I spoke with yesterday told me that the government took great measures to to fix and paint buildings and clean up the city, for two important visits–President Obama and the Pope. Tourism will take over this place in little time. Carnival cruises will begin heading to the island from Florida in May. I am lucky to see this incredible place before it all changes.
After our ballgame, the players exchanged uniforms, and our Vermont ballplayers were given an authentic Cuban uniform! The uniforms have sharks on them, and they are from the Playa team. We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Lucita restaurant after. I sat at the same table as the groundskeeper from the Rays-national team game. The players had their uniforms signed by the opposing team on both sides. We handed out copies of a group photo to all the Cuban ballplayers and coaches. The meal was followed by a delicious dessert of Guava puree.
Following our meal we stopped by at the most unique neighborhood I have ever entered. Started by an Gaudi-inspired artist named Jose Fuste, this neighborhood (called Fusterlandia) had tiled artwork and mosaics all over the place. It was incredible to walk around and take pictures. This was one of the most unique and fascinating places for photography that I have ever experienced.
This was definitely a day to remember, something I cannot not properly justify in words. Take a look at my snapshots from today’s experiences in Cuba. I hope you all check back for another update tomorrow night (Around 8-9 pm ET).
Adios!

Day 2: Old Havana, Opening Ceremonies, and Friendship

Day 1: Travelling to Cuba

Internet is still new in Cuba, so I was unable to post an update about yesterday’s travels. From now on I’ll have daily internet access so look for more frequent updates.

We started off the voyage boarding our Air China flight to Havana. We were definitely provided with a cultural experience. The in-flight entertainment, the announcements, the food, and the staff were all Chinese. Our flight took off right on time, soaring over Lake Champlain and Burlington on its way south. We were even able to spot the bike path causeway that connects South Hero and Colchester!
As we neared Cuba, we fastened our seatbelts and prepared for our landing in Havana. The plane touched the tarmac just after 8:25 pm, and it was raining outside. The warm raindrops and distant palm trees greeted us as we walked across the runway. We made our way over the customs where we were greeted by our partners from the Jose Marti Institute.

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The team after arriving at the Havana Airport.

Lorraine from the insititute helped guide us through customs. We had photos taken and passports checked. Some of us were even able to go through the “Diplomat/VIP” Line (See photo below) We then boarded our bus and headed to our hotel, the Bella Habana.

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Some of us were able to go through the VIP line!
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At the airport in Havana.
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The team after getting off the flight in Havana.
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The team meets with Lorraine from the Jose Marti Center at the Havana Airport.

We were greeted by Jorge at our hotel who served us sandwiches and drinks and guided us to our rooms. Take a look at photos from our day of travel:

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On board the bus about to head to our hotel.
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Heading to the hotel.
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Arriving at the Bella Habana Hotel and being greeted by Jorge from the Jose Marti Center.
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My room at the Hotel Bella Habana.
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Inside my room at the Hotel Bella Habana.