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:
- Public Opinion About Cuba: 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, presented their paper, “Forty Years of U.S. Public Opinion About Cuba” in mid-December at an 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 lay groundwork for two seminars they plan to present there with Cuban colleagues. One seminar will deal with the nonmarket evaluation of Cuba’s environmental assets, the other with the use of geographic information systems for natural-resource management.
- 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.