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Baseball squad departs for Cuban humanitarian trip

Jan. 22, 2010

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File Photo
Shawn Tolleson (above) and the Baylor baseball team will travel to Havana for a six-day humanitarian trip. The Bears then turn around two days after their return and begin workouts for the 2010 season.

By Matt Larsen
Sports writer

Two baseball-rich cultures will meet Friday when the Baylor baseball team arrives in Havana to interact with and serve Cuban players and youth.

"We have done a number of good things in the past, and you can do those things right here in town," head coach Steve Smith said. "So I would not in the outset have looked at this as an opportunity to go do a mission project in Cuba, but that is what it has evolved into. Regardless of where our players are in the spiritual spectrum in their lives, they will come back at a different place."

Smith says he first came across the idea of taking the team to Cuba after reading during the summer of 2008 about other schools planning international tours in which they would play friendly games against the Cuban teams.

"We will have opportunities to interact with players," Smith said. "[But] this is not an international tour of sorts. We can't play games right now. NCAA rules prohibit you from taking an international tour and playing games in the 30-day window prior to your practice starting."

Though the trip does not fall during a time in which they can play an organized game, players still voiced their excitement for the chance to experience baseball in a different setting.

"A common interest that we will share with the guys we interact with down there is our love and our passion for the game of baseball," senior pitcher Willie Kempf said. "So to be able to go down there and to give a little bit of our time and our talents and our treasure to help them out will be a neat experience."

Senior infielder Raynor Campbell shares Kempf's desire to connect with Cuban baseball players. After hearing Smith talk of his recent trip to witness Cuban baseball firsthand, Campbell also looks forward to watching the differences in techniques between Cuban and American ball.

"It is just a different style," he said. "[Coach Smith] said that no infielder ever broke down on a groundball. It was all run-through plays, throwing off of one foot - it is just a different style that is going to be fun to watch."

In addition to spending time with some of Cuba's finest athletes and youth, the Baylor team will also help renovate a large sports complex built in Havana by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"Since they left, it has just basically gone downhill," Smith said. "It's in a neighborhood, so we're talking about going into a neighborhood that could have a very playable surface."

After the squad completes its work, the neighborhood could have many playable surfaces as the team plans to do work on the basketball and volleyball courts as well as the baseball stadium.

Senior catcher Gregg Glime looks forward to providing the people of Havana with a refurbished athletic facility.

"When we walk into this ballpark every day, we are blessed to play in one of the best places in the United States," he said. "I don't take for granted playing here everyday, and I'm sure after coming back from there I'll know why I don't take it for granted playing here."

Coach Smith noted his blessings by thanking those who supported the trip, namely interim president David Garland, and pointing out the overall value of a trip that bridges cultures.

"Dr. Garland has blessed this from day one," Smith said, "and in the context of the mission of Baylor University, I don't know that we could do anything more appropriate and more in line with what that mission statement is."