On any given day in the United States, you could see the American flag displayed as the national anthem plays before the start of a Little League® game. For more than 50 years, such a display was unheard of on the island nation of Cuba. That was until a collection of Little Leaguers® from Vermont became envoys of goodwill during a seven-day visit to the Cuban capital of Havana.
“In my opinion (the Little Leaguers), along with the more than 85 Cuban players and the respective parents from Cuba and Vermont, have done a great deal to improve relations between the United Stated and Cuba,” said Jim “Skip” Carter, the Vermont team’s manager.
The trip, co-organized by the Cuban American Friendship Society in Burlington, Vt., and a similar group in Havana, offered a distinctly rare opportunity to a group of Little League® players from Burlington, Essex Junction, Shelburne and Bristol Little Leagues.
Burlington Little Leaguers Tate Agnew, Will Gumbrell, Anna Jenemann, Ozzie Kost, Cyrus Perkinson, Augie Reinhart, and Nolan Simon ; Eli Bostwick, Andrew Goodrich from Essex Junction Little League, Ollie Pudvar from Shelburne Little League; and Bristol Little League’s Carter Monks figuratively became ambassadors for Vermont, and the United States.
“I was in shock to be going to Cuba to play baseball, but what I found out when we got there was the kids aren’t much different from us,” said Eli Bostwick. “I was so excited for all of us, and we wanted to go win, but by the time we got to the first game, it all was just about having fun.”
Dave Bostwick, Eli’s father and a coach for the team, explained, “Everyone we met was welcoming, accommodating, happy, and excited to be part of this special opportunity. The families who came to the games seemed honestly enthusiastic for relations with the U.S., and the Cuban coaches made it fun for everyone.”
As part of the trip, the players took classes about youth sports and the history of baseball in Cuba. They were immersed in Cuban culture, and after every game, enjoyed dinner with the host teams. Each day, the contingent enjoyed a cultural activity that included; a tour of Old Havana, Earnest Hemingway’s estate, and a canon firing ceremony.
“I thought it was unique time to experience Cuba and its culture,” said Mr. Bostwick of the decision to allow his son to make the trip and also accompany him. “I never felt unsafe. Havana didn’t seem to have many luxuries and there was a pre-Internet feel, but I could tell that this was a big city with a lot to offer. If Cuba opens up to tourism, I would visit again.”
The team from Vermont was not a collection of All-Stars. To the contrary, Mr. Bostwick said it took months to assemble the 12-player roster. Prior to boarding the flight to Havana, the group met a few times, but due to the Vermont weather, only had one outdoor practice. In the five-game exhibition series, the U.S. team played several 11- and 12 year-old teams from Havana, without posting a win.
“Going to Cuba was the most amazing experience I will ever have,” said Eli, 11, a catcher, pitcher and second baseman in the Essex Junction Little League. “I hope that other people will be able to go to Cuba. I would love to go back … It was an awesome trip.”
“Overall, the quality of baseball was really good,” said Mr. Bostwick. “We played on the same field every day, and as we drove by other fields, there were always kids playing.”