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‘Bienvenido’ from West Hartford to Cuban Teens and Coaches

Members of the West Hartford team, family, and friends gather at Conard High School to greet the busload of Cuban teens, coaches, and translators Sunday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

An enthusiastic crowd showed up early Sunday morning at Conard High School to welcome Team Cuba to West Hartford.

Members of the West Hartford team, family, and friends gather at Conard High School to greet the busload of Cuban teens, coaches, and translators Sunday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Members of the West Hartford team, family, and friends gather at Conard High School to greet the busload of Cuban teens, coaches, and translators Sunday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford teens, their parents, and others from the local baseball community flocked to the parking lot of Conard High School at 6:30 a.m. on a cool and drizzly Sunday morning awaiting the arrival of a busload of Cuban teens making the last leg of their 36-hour journey from Holguin.

Although some travel delays added an hour to a trip that included several bus rides and two plane flights, neither the weather nor anything else dampened the excitement for the arrival of Team Cuba – a group of boys that many of the West Hartford teens now call friends after their visit to Holguin in April.

Reynaldo Cruz Diaz, a Cuban journalist who is serving as one of the translators, had flown to Miami and then arrived in West Hartford the previous night, so he was waiting along with the Americans for the rest of the group.

Cruz Diaz has spent considerable time studying American history, and although this is his first trip out of the country, he didn’t find Miami all that shocking. Although they weren’t Cubans, he said many of the people he saw there spoke Spanish.

The boys on the baseball team, who haven’t spent as much time learning about the U.S., will probably be much more surprised, he said. “They will be in a whole new universe. Some hadn’t even left their hometown before going to the embassy. They will be overwhelmed,” Cruz Diaz said.

He said that the trees, the sizes of the houses, what the houses look like in West Hartford are all vastly different. “In Cuba most of the houses are pure concrete. These wouldn’t survive in hurricanes,” he said, pointing to the single-story frame homes across the street from Conard.

The food will also surprise the teens, Cruz Diaz said. “I think they will be impressed that things are not simple,” he said.

Sunday morning’s cool weather might also feel different for the boys, Cruz Diaz said, although it’s sometimes cool and drizzly in Cuba, he said.

Cruz Diaz and Team Cuba member Reynier Walfrido Morales will stay with two different host families while in the U.S. – the Mallinsons and the Nemerguts.

“I reached out to Reynaldo to get an idea of what they like to eat for breakfast,” U.S. team parent Eric Mallinson said. He said the response was yogurt, fruit, Nutella on toast, and cheeses. “But we’re also prepared to give them some American breakfast foods like pancakes,” Mallinson said.

Mallinson got to know Cruz Diaz during the April trip, and said they have been able to keep in touch via email as well as Facebook messenger. Communication with Cruz Diaz, who as one of the team’s translators is fluent in English, isn’t a problem, but communicating with Reynier might be a bit more difficult. Mallinson said he downloaded a translation app to assist him, and will also rely on his son Dylan, a rising sophomore at Conard who has been studying Spanish for years.

“We’re thrilled to be able to share our home,” said Darnel Nemergut. “The opportunity to host is incredible. We look forward to seeing everything unfold,” she said.

Nemergut said she speaks “un poquito” Spanish, but her son Vincent, a rising sophomore at Conard, has studied the language for years and will be able to translate.

Cruz Diaz has a cellphone and is able to communicate with his family (including his wife, infant child, and parents) in Holguin. He said he will text them on a regular basis and then his family will keep the parents of the Cuban boys updated on the trip.

Colleen Brennan, sister of Tim Brennan who is the local program lead for the USA-Cuba Goodwill Program and an assistant coach for the West Hartford team, is a Spanish teacher in Glastonbury and also plays a translator role for the teams. She said she has been emailing the boys’ parents, and is also helping facilitate communication between the Cuban teens and their families.

Tim Brennan is looking forward to this second phase of the goodwill exchange. “We were absolutely delighted to be reunited with our friends from Cuba,” he said.

Tim Brennan said Team Cuba looked great when they arrived, even though they were exhausted from travel. After exchanging many hugs, the boys had a chance to shower in the Conard locker room and were treated to a hearty breakfast courtesy of Whole Foods before boarding a coach bus for Fenway Park where they were part of the opening ceremonies before the Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay game – a 4-0 victory for the Sox.

The public will have a chance to participate in some of the activities with the Cuban team, beginning with a U.S. vs. Cuba game and grand opening ceremony at the University of Hartford’s Fiondella Field on Monday, July 11, at 3 p.m., followed by the goodwill tour’s opening ceremony at 6 p.m.

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Team Cuba and the West Hartford team on the Jumbotron at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Tim Brennan

Team Cuba and the West Hartford team on the Jumbotron at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Tim Brennan

The boys from West Hartford prepare to welcome their Cuban friends. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The boys from West Hartford prepare to welcome their Cuban friends. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

From left: Reynaldo Cruz DIaz, FOX 61's Jimmy Altman (who traveled with the team to Cuba in April), and Julio Fernandez. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

From left: Reynaldo Cruz DIaz, FOX 61’s Jimmy Altman (who traveled with the team to Cuba in April), and Julio Fernandez. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Welcome Team Cuba. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Welcome Team Cuba. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The bus arrives at Conard. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The bus arrives at Conard. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Many of those gathered at Conard photographed and videoed the moment of arrival. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Many of those gathered at Conard photographed and videoed the moment of arrival. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Team Cuba files into the Conard locker room to shower after their 36-hour journey. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Team Cuba retreieves luggage from the bus before heading into the Conard locker room to shower after their 36-hour journey. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Julio Fernandez and several of the Cuban team members head to the locker room. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Julio Fernandez and several of the Cuban team members prepare to head to the locker room. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Hugs between the Americans and the Cubans. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Tim Brennan chats with a Team Cuba member. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Tim Brennan chats with a Team Cuba member. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Team Cuba files into the Conard locker room to shower after their 36-hour journey. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Team Cuba files into the Conard locker room to shower after their 36-hour journey. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

After breakfast the teams headed to Fenway Park where they participated in the opening ceremonies of the Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay game. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

After breakfast the teams headed to Fenway Park where they participated in the opening ceremonies of the Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay game. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba members at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

Team Cuba and Team USA at Fenway Park. Photo courtesy of Michael Gingold

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5 Comments

  • Ronni, I have about 10 pairs of size 7 running shoes – minamilly used. Could we organize to send suitcases back with the Cuban boys? I’m sure I / we could also ask Fleet Feet to donate new, and if you publish the need, we could have plenty for barefoot Cubans …

    • Hi Erica! I will certainly ask that question! I’m not sure how much they will be able to take back with them because of limitations on the number of pieces of luggage and weight limits. I know the boys have all been given uniforms and I’m sure there will be souveniers! There is another group going back in April as well, so if it doesn’t work now, there may be another opportunity before too long. ~Ronni

    • Erica, although your heart is in the right place, please understand as stated in Spanish in the comment below and as we witness when we visited Cuba in April, the children are no more barefoot in the streets of Cuba than ours in the US. The economy is different and therefore there is less access.

  • Los niños cubanos no andan descalzos por las calles. Todo parece como montado para hacer ver a nuestros niños como indigentes menesterosos. Los jóvenes atletas que hoy están ahí viajaron por el amor al béisbol, ciertamente verán cosas que los deslumbren, pero su patria los espera.

  • Estoy de acuerdo con Lismonetro. He visitado a Cuba recientemente y encontré un pueblo orgulloso, con dignidad, y contento. El sistema cubano no se basa en “consumerismo”, al contrario, no anhelan acumular “cosas” . De eso podríamos en EUA aprender algo.

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