Penn State Baseball Experiences Cuba
Penn State baseball had quite the Thanksgiving break, as the team became the second American squad at any level to play baseball in Cuba. It made history on the eight-day trip, as its 9-3 win over Mayabeque marked the first time that an American team has ever beat a Cuban National Series club.
“We talked all along on the lead up to this trip that I felt like it was gonna be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” head coach Rob Cooper said at a press conference at the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday. “I think it was all that and more. The people of Cuba could not have been nicer to us, more accommodating to us. The baseball experience was great, but just to really to be able to see Cuba and the history and the culture and to get to know some people down there is something that I think everyone associated with the program will take with them for the rest of their lives.”
In four games, the team compiled a 1-3 record and played in three cities – Havana, San José de las Lajas, and Matanzas. The level of competition was quite high, as Cooper pointed out that one of the teams that the Nittany Lions played is Cuba’s version of the New York Yankees.
This trip wasn’t just about playing a few baseball games. As two members of the team explained, seeing how little the people of the Pearl of the Antilles had was a culture shock.
“Seeing the look on a kid’s face when you give them a ball, a t-shirt, a hat, or even, like, a pair of spikes, like I know some of the teammates did, that was probably the best experience,” junior outfielder Nick Riotto said. Riotto also commented on how surreal it was to get off of the plane in Havana and take in the country for the first time.
“You could get a feeling for how little they really had,” junior pitcher Tim Scholly said. “A lot of them were asking for baseballs, anything, to shoes to belts to hats, anything you could possibly take, they were asking for.”
The team wasn’t the only group of Penn Staters on the trip. It was joined by eight students and three faculty members from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. According to the Curley Center, 10 places published pieces by students on the trip, including MLB.com.
If you’d like more information on the trip, stay tuned – we’ll have a lot more on it in the March/April edition of the magazine.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor