WACO (January 21, 2010)--Baylor baseball student-athletes, coaches and various members of the support staff will leave early Friday morning to embark on a six-day Humanitarian trip to Havana, Cuba.
Once in Havana, the team will work through the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba on a variety of projects, including the renovation of a Soviet-era sports complex. The team also plans to host baseball clinics, but due to NCAA rules, the players are not allowed to participate or compete in any organized games.
With the help of Caring Partners International, three containers carrying an estimated $200,000 worth of goods have been shipped to Cuba. The team will arrive in Havana Friday evening and return home on Wednesday, just two days before official workouts for the 2010 season begin.
Head coach Steve Smith and four Baylor players participated in a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss details of the trip. Highlights from the event are below:
Baylor head coach Steve Smith
“Obviously for an event of this nature to take place there is a lot of work that went into it over a fairly lengthy time. It would not have happened without a lot of assistance, a few of them that I want to mention by name. Starting from the (Baylor) President’s office, Dr. Garland has blessed this from day one. I don’t think it would have happened without Mike Morrison, the Director of International Education. He really championed this. You can imagine the red flags that go up over at General Council when you start talking about taking a student group to a Communist country and all of the issues about liability and health care. General Counsel has asked all of the right questions and they have done due-diligence on this as well, and we appreciate them. At the end of the day I don’t know that it would have happened without the assistance of Rep. Chet Edwards, his staff in Waco and his staff in Washington D.C. helping to get the license through the process that it has to go through, which is not an easy task.”
On the activities of the trip:
“Once we get there we will be doing a number of things, one of which is renovating a recreation area which includes a baseball stadium, a baseball surface and basketball and volleyball areas. This complex was built in the 1980s when the Russians were there, and since they left it has just gone downhill. We are talking about a neighborhood that could have a very playable surface and a place to take care of, but they don’t have it right now. In addition to that, the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba operates a nursing home. We have a couple of dentists going along with us and one of the things that they are in need of is a dental office. In partnership with Caring Partners we have already shipped a couple hundred-thousand dollars worth of humanitarian aid over there. It has already arrived there in containers and some of that was dental equipment. The dentists that are going with us, with the help from some of our players, will be installing that dental equipment and setting up that office with them.”
On interacting with Cuban baseball players:
“We will have some opportunities to interact with some Cuban players. In this time frame that we are taking this trip, this is not an international tour. We can’t play games right now. NCAA rules prohibit you from taking an international tour and playing games within the 30-day window prior to your practice starting. We are in an eight hour per week window right now where we can do strength and conditioning for six and baseball for two hours. That is the window that we will continue to operate in while we are there. It will give us the same opportunity to do the same things that we are doing here, we will just get the opportunity to do them in there and we will do them many times with Cuban players in our presence and amongst us. I think the interaction that our guys will have with those guys will be very beneficial.”
On the team reaction when finding out about the trip:
“This is one of those things where (you ask), ‘is it going to happen,’ and you really don’t want to tell them until you know it is going to happen. Honestly, when I told them about it I didn’t know it was going to happen, but it got to the point where they had to get passports. I think our guys are genuinely excited about it and are highly motivated about it based on the length of time it took them to get me their passports. That was about as fast of a turnaround as anything that I have ever asked them to do.”
On leaving Central Texas to do humanitarian work:
“I think it is good for all of us to (get out of our comfort zones). We’ve done a number of things like (humanitarian work) through the years and not had to go that far to do it. You can do those things right here in town. I would not have looked at this at the outset as an opportunity to go do a mission project in Cuba. But, that is what it has evolved into. I think regardless of where our players are on a spiritual spectrum in their lives, they will come back in a different place. I think in the context of Baylor University, I don’t know that we could do anything more appropriate in line of what that mission statement is.”
Senior RHP Willie Kempf
On learning of the Cuba trip:
“Obviously we were excited. We really didn’t know a whole lot of what we were doing when we first heard about it. The first thing that came to my mind was that this was going to be an experience that I am never going forget. When we get together 20 to 30 years from now, this is going to be something at the top of our list to talk about. Personally, from the (Hurricane Ike relief) trip that we made to League City, (Texas) last year, this will definitely be a bonding experience.”
On concerns of entering a Communist country:
“I’ve never been concerned (about safety). I am going down there to help some people out. I think it is going to be a whole lot of fun for one thing and I think we are going to get to see a few new ways to turn double plays while we are down there. It will be pretty neat.”
Senior IF Raynor Campbell
“Whenever you can help anybody through some hard times, even financially, it makes you feel good inside. With the League City trip I definitely came away from that place feeling good about myself. This Cuba trip is going to be that and greater.”
On Cuban baseball:
“Coach Smith was telling us the story of that Double-A game that he went down and watched – it is just a different style. He 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.”
Senior C Gregg Glime
On learning of the Cuba trip:
“I didn’t even know what to think. The first time that I heard of it was from Kendal Volz. Like Willie (Kempf) said, I had no idea what we are getting ourselves into. I didn’t know if we were going to play or to do mission work, but I was really excited.”
On the trip:
“We walk into this ballpark every day and we are blessed to play at one of the best places in the United States. To be able to go to Cuba and be able to give back to someone else, I am excited to do it. I don’t take for granted playing here every day and I’m sure after coming from Cuba, I will know why I don’t take for granted playing here.”
Junior RHP Craig Fritsch
On the importance of a humanitarian trip like this:
"If we go down there and help them build a field that they can play on and enjoy, it will help us appreciate what we have here. Throughout a season you always gain memories from your teammates. Since freshman year we have memories and just little things throughout the season. A major trip like this is definitely going to stick with us for a while."