The possibility of a University of St. Thomas baseball team playing in Cuba this winter has rounded third base and is heading for home.

The Carl and Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation announced Nov. 23 that it is giving St. Thomas $100,000 to help underwrite the project. Also last week, the Rev. Dennis Dease returned from a trip to Cuba with news that that the higher education minister there is enthusiastic about the idea for a Cuba-UST ball game; the St. Thomas president expects a decision to be made in the next couple of weeks.

Whether the game takes place is now in the hands of Cuban officials. St. Thomas applied for and recently 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 baseball license was the first granted to a U.S. college or university.

If officials from the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education grant permission, the Tommies would play the University of Havana in late January. It would be the first college-level game played between Cuban and U.S. teams in Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power about 40 years ago. Last spring, the Baltimore Orioles became the first professional team allowed to play in Cuba since the 1959 Communist takeover.

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.

News of the possible baseball trip was reported by The Aquin student newspaper in early November, and by Twin Cities news media last week. One question reporters asked: How in the world did St. Thomas, a Catholic, Division 3 school noted for its strong (capitalistic) business programs and tucked away in far-off Minnesota find itself playing ball with, at least in some respects, its polar opposite?

Part of that answer might lie in the fact that when a pitcher is facing a batter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the choice of religion and political ideology matters less than the choice between a curve ball or a slider.

The other part of the answer, the how-it-happened part, goes back eight years to a humanitarian trip Dease took to Cuba. 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 relationships between St. Thomas and the two Cuban universities.

At a meeting held last winter to review the success of that effort, Williams said “it felt like a match-making trip, sort of like a dating service. We tried to match our staff and faculty with Cuban staff and faculty with similar interests. We figured if half of the group found a match, that would be considered a success. Well, every single member of the group found a match; we all came back with ideas and opportunities for projects with our Cuban colleagues.”

One of those ideas was the baseball game. More than a dozen other projects either have been finalized or proposed as part of three-year academic and cultural exchange effort between St. Thomas and Cuba.

Projects that have been finalized are:

    • Public Opinion in the United States: Dr. Nancy Zingale, professor of political science faculty and executive assistant to the president of St. Thomas, and co-author Dr. William Flanigan, University of Minnesota, will present their paper, “Forty Years of U.S. Public Opinion About Cuba” at a mid-December international conference in Cuba sponsored by the University of Havana.
    • Modern Cuba: Dr. Sarah Stevenson, director of international education at St. Thomas, Dr. Patricia Howe, History Department, Dr. Gary Prevost, St. John’s University, and three visiting Cuban scholars, will offer a course at St. Thomas in fall 2000 on modern Cuba. A follow-up three-week January Term course for U.S. students is planned in Cuba.
    • Cuban Assets Valuation: Dr. Robert Werner, Geography, Dr. James Vincent, Economics, and Tim Loesch, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and an adjunct faculty member, will travel to Cuba in January 2000 to present seminars with Cuban colleagues on the nonmarket evaluation of Cuba’s environmental assets.
    • Technology Seminars: Dr. Bernice Folz, director of St. Thomas’ Graduate Programs in Software Engineering, and Dr. Bonnie Bennett, a software professor, will participate in a May 2000 conference in Cuba, followed by mini-seminars on various high-tech topics.
    • Training-Needs Assessment: Dr. Miriam Williams and Jeanne Bailey, of St. Thomas’ Management Center, will travel to Cuba this winter to work with Cuban professors on a research and learning project involving human resource and organization development.
    • Poetry of Cuba: Dr. Sonia Feigenbaum, Modern and Classical Languages Department, will make her third trip to Cuba this January in connection with her project of translating the poetry of three contemporary Cuban women poets.
    • Teaching English: Dr. Lon Otto of the St. Thomas English Department and professors at several Cuban universities are planning literature and writing workshops that will be held in May 2000 in Cuba.

    Following are projects that have been proposed but not yet confirmed:

      • Mini-Master of International Management: Dr. Karen Gulliver of the St. Thomas Master of International Management program, along with faculty members Dr. Heino Beckmann, Peter Coffey, Bud Becker, John Hovanec, Elaine Bliss and Brooks Peterson, plus
        faculty from Havana, have proposed a joint, intensive weeklong program on doing business in the international marketplace. Also proposed are MIM certificate programs in marketing and import-export administration.
      • VISION Project: Michael Klein, director of St. Thomas VISION Program (Volunteers in Service Nationally and Internationally), along with the Rev. David Smith and Marv Davidov, members of the Justice and Peace Studies faculty, are exploring the development of a service-learning course in Cuba, most likely with the nongovernmental Martin Luther King Center there.
      • Economic Integration Lectures: St. Thomas’ widely published international economist Peter Coffey and faculty from the University of Havana have proposed a series of lectures dealing with regional economic integration.
      • International Conference in Uruguay or the Bahamas: Members of the graduate and undergraduate business faculty from St. Thomas have proposed a conference on U.S.-Latin American commerce. It would be held outside of Cuba to ease travel restrictions for participants.

      Many of the projects grew directly out of last January’s trip by the 17 St. Thomas staff and faculty members. Those who made the trip were Jeanne Bailey, Management Center; Dr. Sarah Stevenson, International Education; Dr. Patricia Howe, History; Dr. Sonia Feigenbaum, Spanish; Dr. Robert Werner, Geography; Dr. James Vincent, Economics and Environmental Studies; Dr. Lon Otto, English; Dr. Bernice Folz, Software; Dr. David West, Software; the Rev. David Smith, Justice and Peace; Dr. Nancy Zingale, President’s Office; Dr. Miriam Williams, Academic Affairs; Dr. Angeline Barretta Herman, Social Work; Dr. Alan Sickbert, Student Affairs; Dr. Richard Rexeisen, Business; Rosemary Miklitsch, International Management; and Dr. Tullio Maranhao, Educational Leadership.

      “Through these connections and growing friendships with our academic colleagues in Cuba, we are positioning ourselves for that day, sometime down the road, when the Cuban embargos are lifted,” Dease told the faculty members who participated in last year’s Cuba trip.

      “I appreciate the risk each of you took,” he added. “This is the start of a fun, exciting and mutually enriching relationship.”