BallParkTours.netPast ToursCUBA: The Diamonds To Our South – Recap

Ballpark Tours ■ December 4 to 14, 2015

Diamonds to Our South
7 Cities 10 Days
Miami/Havana/Pinar Del Rio
Santa Clara/Trinidad/Cienfuegos/Vinales

Stats: 1,343 miles by bus ■ 3,396 miles by air

Award Winners: Larry: Nick ■ Pacer: Danny ■ MVP: David / Largest Rookie Class – 11

Quotes of Note: “One for me, one for road, and another.”- Mary ■ “I’ll meet you in the first bar past security.”- Danny

Day 1. Miami. Pre-game Festivities. Friday, December 4

6-hour tour for 6 ■ Little Havana for a Cuban sandwich ■ Pericone for Banana Cake ■ 7:30 p.m. Julian kicks off Diamonds to Our South adventure. ■ Group meets Benita and Jim from Transeair ■ Associate Pope blesses the congregation ■ Vanasek Bailers noted ■ Virgin greeting overwhelms, confuses rookies. It’s too late. No turning back. ■ Benita reviews latest itinerary ■ BPT t-shirts distributed. Requests for exchanges/trades begin ■ 3:45 AM wake-up call ■ We’re on a tight schedule. ■ Margaretville. The tribe gathers for a stunning performance.

Day 2-Miami to Havana. Saturday, December 5

3:45 a.m. Yes. 3:45 a.m. ■ Huge mound of luggage in blue plastic wrap on its way to Havana ■ Dr. Dave saves the day for those of us who paid double on the exit fee ■ Not the smoothest BPT departure ■ Rain sends us on our way ■ Julian finally sits in first class—for 45 minutes. No alcohol. Just a coke like everyone else ■ A barn appears. We’re landing in Cuba. Applause. ■ Noted and appreciated: the variety of “wonderful” fishnet stocking worn by the lovely women in short skirts ■ 45-minute wait for luggage. Still no BPT international incident. All luggage arrived. ■ Vets & Rookie set the pace: enjoy their first beer/rum on Cuban soil. ■ Meet Eliseo. Eduardo waits for us on bus 2890. Even without Sheppard aboard, bus company (Transgaviota) noted. ■ Bus surpassed BPT expectations: A/C, bathroom, cup holders. In a BPT first, cooler in front was filled with bottles of water. ■ Heads counted. Again, Bailers noted. ■ First glimpse of 1950’s American cars.

Old Havana Tour: Population 3 million; designed for 600,000 ■ Organic urban farming

BPT Firsts: Contribution to locals, buying caricatures ■ Lobster, shrimp, fish, pork for lunch @ Las Brisas ■ First Welcome drinks. ■ No 11 a.m. tequila ■ Bathroom without a toilet seat. (Tip for future travelers: start doing squats a couple months before the trip.)

Hemmingway Estate: Rum drinks, fresh pure cane sugar ■ Gigi All Stars. ■ Homeruns over the leftfield wall onto the street. ■ A Crosley Field outfield. ■ First equipment give away to kids. ■ Met 85-year old former Gigi All Star. Book buying and signing.

Hotel Capri: Made it at about 5 p.m.■ Poolside nibbles on 17th floor pool/patio. Open bar. ■ While waiting for bus to dinner, a flautist played White Christmas

Dinner at LaCasa Paladar: Meet Cuban baseball writer & and HOF organizer Antonio Diaz Susavila (Tony) and Luis Zayas. ■ Luis, 78, is the last living member of the 1958 Havana Sugar Kings AAA team, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Zoilo Versalles’ cousin, godfather to one of Luis Tiant’s sons. ■ Turtles in the back room ■ More lobster, more fish, more rum ■ Three musician serenade and we sing along, Guantanamera and We Wish You a Merry Christmas

After dinner: Dr. Dave leads his first tour to the Jazz Club ■ Larry-worthy performances begin

Day 3: Havana to Pinar Del Rio. Sunday, December 6

8 a.m. departure to see 10 a.m. baseball game: Delayed by Nick and Rosie, who were greeted with Larry cheers. If we only knew what Nick had in mind for later in the week ■ No Dumping rule in effect ■ Medical breakthroughs noted. Cuba has 1 doctor for every 150 people ■ US NAMES: Fifth Avenue. Central Park. Coney Island. Marina ■ Providence of Pinar Del Rio is tobacco and coffee mecca. Population of Pinar Del Rio the city is 600,000.

Arrive at Estadio Capitan San Luis in Pinar Del Rio: 5th inning of a rain delayed game between Havana Industriales and Pinar del Rio Vegueros. Passionate fans argued. A couple guys on horns. Players played like MLB squad that is finishing out a rain delayed game. Veteran move by Brauer, trades shirts with a guy in the bleachers, gets rum, gives watch. Gods of Baseball on the outfield fence are three qualities, represented by three players. Be the first to name the three qualities and three players and win BPT Swag! Dr. Dave wonders aloud why if “Baseball is Life. The Rest is Sport” why the facilities are awful. It’s Latin America folks! ■ Even Sheppard would have found the bus in the parking lot after the game!

After game: met Tony O’s brother, Juan Carlos Oliva, and Mr. Baseball: HOFer Luis Casanova and historian Juan Martize Masaba. ■ Juan Carlos Oliva shared greetings from Tony. He thanked us for taking time to visit his place of birth. It was his birthday so we sang. In his 11-season career, Oliva was 101-57 with 24 saves and a 2.46 ERA. ■ Luis Casanova, Mr. Baseball, called the greatest Cuban ballplayer of all time. 1974 to 1991, right fielder hit 320 home runs in 17 seasons, that is 17, 90-game seasons as opposed to MLB 162 game schedules. Lifetime batting average 320. On 13 team championships. Compared to Roberto Clemente. Eliseo said that Casanova was ‘way better’ than Yasiel Puig. One Casanova’s sons is on the Cuban National Team.

Writer’s institute, Cuban Baseball Seminar: Orchards overhead ■ Tony, Juan Martize Masaba and Casanova & son ■ “Baseball is Life. The Rest is Sport.” ■ 16 professional baseball teams ■ Defecting from Cuban baseball to MLB is a problem ■ Most fans see those who have defected as carrying out their dreams. Government and baseball leaders see them as traitors. Defect, but don’t harm your team during the international competition. Defect afterward. ■ 5 Cubans in the 2015 MLB All Star game. Ballplayer salary is about $1,000 pesos a month, + perks for excellent performance ■ Manager for a Cuban baseball team signs on for 4 years ■ Season is 90 games ■ Camilo Pasqual is the very best Cuban pitcher of all time. ■ Hotel Vueltabajo for family style lunch. Private restaurant.

Back in Havana: Hamel’s Alley. (El Callejón de Hamel) Two block area is an Afro-Cuban community art project. Created in 1990 by self-taught Afro-Cuban painter and sculptor, Salvador Gonzales Escalona. Many takers for the $5 CDs. ■ Dinner at The VIP Habana Paladar. New and quite an investment. Movie theme. Great food. Slow service. As Eliseo said, can’t handle large groups.

After dinner: Julian found a salsa bar. Tour Operator had his hands full with “dance” lesson. Trekkers head to Hotel Floridita in Old Havana & Malecon. Cab stopped by cops. Paper checks.

Day 4: Christopher Columbus Cemetery. Beisbol Federation. ICAP. Monday, December 7

9 a.m. and we’re off: Jim hits the deck & is abandoned ■ Program at Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples ■ Christopher Columbus Cemetery – Baseball Mausoleums. Meet historian and doctor Oscar Fernandez at mausoleums. He entered the vaults and verified who is actually buried in each mausoleum. He has a handwritten list. “But not here” was most frequent refrain. He is from Pinar Del Rio and knows Tony Oliva. ■ Lunch at San Cristobal Paladar, home built in 1914. 3 drinks including 15 year old rum and a cigar!!

A week before MLB arrived, BPT paved the way: Meet with Commissioner of Baseball & past commissioner. Latino Ameircana Stadium built in 1946. Capacity 55,000. Eliseo shares the complex story of our trip. The commissioner, in English, looks at us and says, “Sorry. So Sorry.” Shoppertunity for jerseys, shirts and hats.

Revolutionary Square ends the day ■ Evening on our own.

Day 5: Havana to Santa Clara. Tuesday, December 8

Rain continues: Game between Industrials’ and Isle of Youth rained out. College of Cardinals decides we’re going to Revolution Museum & Flea market. ■ As U.S.-Cuban relations are discussed in another room at El Templete in Old Havana, we have lunch. ■ Cigar shop two doors down. Nick, Mr. Spontaneity goes missing. Search parties formed.

Santa Clara: Eco village. Hotel Granjita. Poolside show and dance moves from our group. Rooms are in huts.

Day 6: Tour Santa Clara & Drive to Trinidad. Wednesday, December 9

Awaken to roosters: 8:30 a.m. and we’re off. Almost. Scott left his passport under the mattress. ■ Che Guevara Memorial, built in 1997. There’s a line. ■ Off to Cigar factory – oops, closed because of the high humidity. Cigar (and coffee) store do brisk business. ■ Back to memorial – impressive resting place for Che & compatriots ■ Downtown for lunch @ Santa Rosalia musicians on stage. Rice of all kinds and colors, welcome addition for queasy stomachs. Really nice bathroom. ■ Marta Abreu statue.

To Trinidad: Stop for pottery and to see an old car. ■ Visit Estadio Rolando Rodriguez Ballpark. Home of the Timberones. Kids ran drills for us and asked questions. Parents & older ballplayers come to see Americans. Local media interview with Julian. Group photo with kids and adults. ■ Second big giveaway of equipment. ■ Brief stop. Eduardo hugs his daughter.

At hotel: Brisas Trinidad del Mar, 5-star. No water. All inclusive. Floor show at 10 p.m. Dixie cups of beer. Next trip tip: bring own mugs. Beautiful beach. Swim in the Caribbean. Lively baseball talk with servers at dinner.

Day 7: Trinidad City Tour & Drive to Cienfuegos. Thursday, December 10

City of Trinidad: Known for lace/hand work. Wander on own. Church in center square. Flea markets on side streets. Eduardo gets a ticket. Musicians on the streets. Museum dedicated to those who defended against the bandits in the hills.

To Cienfuegos: Lunch at Villa Lagarto on the bay. ■ Then invited to ICAP to come inside for formal welcome by local ICAP folks. Agh! We wanted to get to the ballpark. Lesson learned. Meeting was moving. Cuban and American flags in the front side-by-side. We receive gifts.

At the ballpark: League dignitaries spoke with us. ■ Julio Becquer photo on Wall of Fame ■ We sat in club seats as 2016 team probables scrimmaged for us ■ Guys sold jerseys off back. Elefantes or Camarones.

At hotel: another all inclusive, Rancho Luna Hotel. ■ Leave for block party sponsored by Committee for Defense of the Revolution. Stop to pick up rum. Children preform. Music, food, drink getting to know the people. Told Cienfuegos is our home. Always welcome. ■ Send off for Cienfuegos pitcher who was drafted by the Industriales ■ Back at hotel. Dancing with pretty girls.

Day 8: Cienfuegos City Tour & Back to Havana. Friday, December 11

On the bus: Cuba’s first transgender conference was being held at the hotel. ■ Danny did not use Eliseo’s ‘greetings’■   Toured city, called Pearl of the South. Theater. Plaza. Looks like old main street USA with appliance store, paint store, etc. ■ Took pictures of the Palacio del Valle built in 1890.

Back to Havana: Lunch at Jardin de los Milagros Paladar, in a courtyard. ■ To Capri. ■ Jim arises from the dead ■ Walk to dinner at Cafe Larent Paladar. 50s U.S. magazines cover the walls. Fabulous ice cream. ■ Julian hits the deck.

Day 9: Havana to Vinales. Saturday, December 12

To Vinales in Pinar Del Rio Province: Julian lives. Considers stay of No Dumping rule. ■ Vinales National Park. Oldest and poorest part of Cuba. ■ Stop at Hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines, a beautiful resort in the mountains. US flag flies. Group photo under the flag poles. Musicians in red dresses. Shoppertunity. ■ Lunch & tour at tobacco farm. Everything we ate grown at the farm. ■ Tour the city. Lots of B&Bs. ■ Stop at the Mural de la Prehistoria. Then into Sendero Indian Caves and boat ride. Most touristy area yet.

At lodge: Rancho San Vicente in Vinales cabins. ■ Julian still out; awoke for soup. ■ David and Dr. Dave do music at the pool. Bug spray required.

Day 10. Vinales to Havana. BPT Awards Ceremony. Sunday, December 13

All on board: Back to Havana and José Rodríguez Fuster artist area. ■ Lunch at Bienmesabe, a cooperative. Gringos play the bongos. Pappa Noel in the entry. ■ Softball across the street. ■ All Star Game on the bus. ■ Old Havana/ Flea market. Brewery to watch ASG. 3-foot iced pitchers ■ Back to hotel. ■ El Aljibe restaurant for dinner. Government restaurant with the best chicken and black beans you’ll ever eat. ■ BPT Awards Ceremony. ■ Out for the evening, including Palacio de Rumba for unbelievable jazz & Latin music. ■ Hotel Nacional nightcap overlooking Malecon

Day 11. Capri to the Airport. Monday, December 14

Breakfast: Julian dictates letter that Eduardo will hand deliver to Dave Winfield as Eduardo is the MLB delegation driver. Found out when we got back to Minnesota that Eliseo guided.

p.s. Check this out: Rebirth of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/the-cuba-diaries-how-a-dead-hall-of-fame-was-brought-back-to-life

Speakers – Organizations – New Friends

Luis Zayas, ex professional player – last living member of Havana Sugar Kings – 1958

Tony Diaz, journalist, head of Sport Press and Hall of Fame committee.

Luis Giraldo Casanova, Mr. Baseball & Hall of Famer

Juan Martinez Osaba, historian & writer who wrote Mr. Baseball

Juan Carlos Oliva, Tony O’s brother, former Cuban National Team member & pitching coach of Pinar Del Rio

Oscar Fernandez. Doctor and Historian of Professional Baseball – Mausoleum Champion

Heriberto Suarez, Baseball Commissioner.

Higinio Velez, President of the National Federation of Baseball.

Rodolfo Puente, Vice President of the Cuban Baseball Federation

Yamil (ICAP Havana)

Miguel (ICAP Santa Clara)

Yamil Marrero – (ICAP Havana)

Adrian Dopico (ICAP Trinidad)

Anita – Anna Martinez (ICAP Cienfuegos)

Reinaldo Suarez (ICAP Cienfuegos)

Miguel Ortega, director of Sports in Trinidad.

Dessy Lomba, director of Baseball Academy in Cienfuegos.

ICAP – Cuban Institute for Friendship with People

INDER – National Institute for Sports & Recreation

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