This past November (November 14-23), Ballpark Tours completed its third trip to the beautiful island of Cuba – where our 22 travelers enjoyed the hospitality of the Cuban people, as well as the nation’s culture and cuisine – and, of course, its passion for baseball.
2019 DIAMONDS TO OUR SOUTH III HIGHLIGHT: —– The Ballpark Tours group took in a nationally televised playoff game (at Cinco de Septiembre Stadium in Cienfuegfos) between the Cienfuegos Elefantes and the Santiago Avispas (Wasps). Mid-game, it was announced that our group was in attendance and the Cuban fans welcomed us with an enthusiastic standing ovation. Clearly, baseball bridges borders.
This year’s BPT island adventure took in Cuban baseball at many levels – including not only a Cuban playoff game, but also a special “exhibition” matchup (in Pinar Del Rio) involving young players working toward a spot on Pinar Del Rio’s regional team and a youth league game on Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban estate. (This league was founded by Hemingway to provide his children and local youngsters with a structured sports experience.) A few members of the BPT group even joined the youngsters the field during the three-inning tilt.
We also had an opportunity to meet a number of Cuban baseball “glories – players who had been part of Cuban teams that brought home international championships, including numerous Olympic and Pan American Gold Medals. Among the highlights for our group was a chance to meet Juan Carlos Oliva (brother of the Twins’ Tony Oliva and one of the best Cuban hurlers of the 1970’s); Pedro Jose Rodriguez (Cuba’s “Mr. Home Run”); Cuban Hall of Fame first baseman Antonio Munoz; and numerous Cuban Olympians.
Interestingly, “baseball talk” has its similarities across cultures and languages. Munoz was asked who was he toughest pitcher he ever faces and Mr. Home Run identified a little-know “junkballer” who had his number for years.
2019 DIAMONDS TO OUR SOUTH III HIGHLIGHT: —– During our travels around the island, the Ballpark Tours group distributed 25 bags of baseball equipment to youth baseball teams. A special thanks for contributions from our BPT travelers, as well as for contributions from the Saint Paul Saints, Minnesota Twins and Delta Airlines.
Of course, it wasn’t all baseball. We got to see and sample plenty of Cuba’s culture and cuisine – not to mention rum and cigars – and enjoy the hospitality of the Cuban people.
Just a few of our stops:
- A meandering walking tour of Old Havana;
- A tour of a cigar factory (Havana), where fine cigars are made by hand;
- A stop at Fusterlandia, an arts community awash with blocks of ceramic tile murals;
- an evening at Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Havana’s hippest night club and a venue for a diverse range of performance arts and music;
- A leisurely tour of Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home and museum;
- A two-day jaunt through the scenic Vinales Valley, Cuba’s tobacco heartland and home to a unique limestone hill (Mogotes);
- Tour and lunch at the Robiano Tobacco Farm, Cuba’s oldest and more renowned tobacco farm, now being operated by the family’s fifth generation;
- The opportunity to wade in the Bay of Pigs;
- The exploration of a pair of World Heritage Cities, Cienfuegos (French) and Trinidad (Spanish);
- A block part in our groups’ honor in Cienfuegos.
2019 DIAMONDS TO OUR SOUTH III HIGHLIGHT: —– The Ballpark Tours group was in Havana for the city’s 500th Anniversary – also attended by the King and Queen of Spain. The Malecon (Havana’s broad coastal boulevard known for its entertainment and culture) was even more alive than usual – with music, fireworks and “celebrating.”
Along the way, we also enjoyed lodging in lovely hotels (seven nights), including four in the Havana Capri Hotel (built by mobster Meyer Lanksy) and three nights in the beautifully restored Melia San Carlos. In addition, our two-night home stays in Vinales provided a great opportunity to experience the warmth and frienbdliness of the Cuban people in a rural, small town setting.
Thinking about joining BPT on our next Cuban adventure? Here’s what some past tour participants have to say:
- Baseball is the perfect way to experience Cuba. Deb H.
- I’ve never felt so safe and welcomed anyplace in the world. Eileen S.
- The baseball experience, of course, was amazing. Philip N.
- The common love of baseball was a wonderful way to connect with the Cuban people. Simply a wonderful trip. Marty M.
- Great trip! Loved learning the history of Cuba. Everything was planned to a tee. I highly recommend this trip. Laura B.
DIAMONDS TO OUR SOUTH IV – NOVEMBER 2020: — Planning is already underway for Ballpark Tours 2020 Cuban adventure. For information and updates, contact Ballpark Tours at firstname.lastname@example.org – or call 651-227-3437. We’ll gladly add you to our mailing list. Also, for information on our summer 2020 Midwest Meander (great minor and major league baseball), click the Bleacher Bums XXXVIII link on the right side of this page. (or just scroll down to the next post on this page.)