The University of St. Thomas baseball team will fly to Cuba later this month to play ball with a team from the University of Havana.
St. Thomas, which has had U.S. authorization for the trip since October, just learned that it also received the necessary approval from Cuban officials. Dr. Juan Vela Valdez, president of the University of Havana, called the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, with the news on Monday.
The St. Thomas team will leave for Havana on Jan. 21 or 22 and return Jan. 28 or 29. The game or games will be played Jan. 26 or 27. The 40-member group making the trip from St. Thomas will consist of about 30 team members and coaches, and about 10 other St. Thomas faculty and staff.
The approval came just in time. St. Thomas officials had been waiting for approval from the Cubans for the last couple of weeks. On Monday morning, approval still had not arrived and it looked like it was getting too late to make travel arrangements for a January game. Just as St. Thomas was making the decision to cancel the January trip (with hopes of rescheduling a trip in June 2000 or in January 2001) the university received the good news that the game this month is a go.
“I’m particularly pleased that during this time of political tension between our two countries, the students of the University of Havana and the University of St. Thomas can engage in this expression of friendship and solidarity,” Dease said.
When not playing baseball or practicing, the St. Thomas team members will participate in cultural and educational outings in Cuba.
The trip, and a possible return visit to Minnesota by the Cuban team, is being funded by a $100,000 grant from the Carl and Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation.
St. Thomas has received two licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department that allow the university to participate in educational and baseball activities in Cuba, according to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Miriam Williams, who is helping to coordinate the university’s Cuba initiatives.
The game between the Tommies and the University of Havana will be one of only a handful of games played between Cuban and U.S. teams in Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power about 40 years ago. A team from Johns Hopkins University played on the island in 1986, and last spring, the Baltimore Orioles became the first professional team allowed to play in Cuba since the 1959 Communist takeover.
It’s a given that the University of Havana, located in a nation with a passion for baseball, will field an outstanding team. But so will St. Thomas, which has 18 varsity players returning from a 1999 team that finished second in the NCAA Division III. The national No. 2 ranking was the best yet for the St. Thomas team that has participated in the NCAA playoffs in each of the last five seasons under head coach Dennis Denning.
If all goes well, St. Thomas hopes to host a return visit to Minnesota by the University of Havana team sometime next spring.
Although restrictions are beginning to thaw, the U.S. trade embargo generally prohibits tourist and business travel to Cuba. St. Thomas is taking advantage of embargo exceptions that allow limited levels of humanitarian aid and educational and cultural exchange.
Dease has had a longtime interest in Cuba, fostered in part by a humanitarian trip he took there nine years ago. More recently, in November 1998, Dease and Williams traveled to Cuba to visit with officials from the University of Havana and the Polytechnic Institute Jose Antonio Echeverria.
That laid the groundwork for a weeklong St. Thomas-sponsored faculty development trip to Cuba last January made by St. Thomas staff and faculty to explore possibilities for academic and cultural relationships between St. Thomas and the two Cuban universities.
One of those possibilities was the baseball game. More than a dozen other projects either have been finalized or proposed as part of an ongoing academic and cultural exchange effort between St. Thomas and Cuba.
Projects that have been finalized or already completed are:
Following are projects that have been proposed but not yet confirmed: