The Penn State men’s baseball team will make history the week of Thanksgiving when it travels to Cuba to play against teams from the Cuban National Series. It will be the first time a U.S.-based team at any level has played against teams from the country’s premiere baseball series.
The group making the trip includes fewer than fifty players, coaches, and staff, along with eight sports journalism students from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.
John Affleck, Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at the Curley Center, said that out of desire to take the baseball team on an international trip, Coach Rob Cooper connected with Dr. John Nichols of the College of Communications. Dr. Nichols specializes in the study of U.S. and Cuban relations, and through the Cuban government, helped make the trip a reality.
Although academic groups from Penn State have traveled to Cuba before, Affleck said this is by far the largest and most ambitious trip.
“We’re in a position where our relationship as Americans with Cuba and the Cuban people is really changing. This might be a little bit of an introduction to the new relationship that we’re going to have”, explains Affleck.
Though the Penn State baseball team will be playing against four different teams, including The Industriales, which Affleck refers to as the ‘Yankees of Cuban Baseball’, participants will also focus on learning about the local culture, meeting Cuban authorities, and touring hot spots in Havana.
Affleck expects the United States and Major League Baseball to closely follow the event. The MLB is in the process of negotiating pathways for Cubans to play in the U.S.
“You get a little bit of the sense that we might be a little bit of a test run for things that may be to come,” Affleck says.
Athletes and journalism students will also be exposed to the importance of baseball in Cuban culture first hand, by visiting Havana’s “hot corner,” where locals gather daily to argue about baseball.
“We’re going to see a great deal of passion for the game down there,” Affleck said.
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