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Retired MLB Star Helping West Hartford Baseball Team Prepare for Trip to Cuba

Former MLB star Devon White was in West Hartford Thursday, helping prepare West Hartford teens for their baseball team's trip to Cuba next spring. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

World Series Champion and Golden Glove winner Devon White visited West Hartford Wednesday to help launch a USA-Cuba Goodwill program involving 18 teen baseball players.

Former MLB star Devon White was in West Hartford Thursday, helping prepare West Hartford teens for their baseball team's trip to Cuba next spring. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Former MLB star Devon White was in West Hartford Thursday, helping prepare West Hartford teens for their baseball team’s trip to Cuba next spring. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Devon White believes that a group of 18 West Hartford teens who plan to travel with their baseball team to Holguin, Cuba for a week next April will have a life-changing experience, and so will their Cuban counterparts.

White – who now officially spells his last name “Whyte” to reflect its original spelling in Jamaica – is a three-time World Series Champion, a three-time All Star, and a seven-time Golden Glove winner. He retired in 2001, but is still very much involved in the world of baseball. Working with Canadian baseball coach Dennis Woodworth, program developer of the Canada-Cuba Goodwill Tour, led to White’s involvement in the program.

The USA-Cuba program is based off the Canadian program.

White was in West Hartford on Thursday, speaking to members of the World Series Club at the VFW Hall on South Street, and also educating the teens and their families about what they can expect when they go to Cuba.

“Cuba is a baseball country, like the Dominican Republic,” White said. “America has been so isolated from Cuba that they don’t know much about it,” he said. Although they may not have the best equipment, even the young players are well-skilled in the fundamentals of the game, White said.

Devon White with players who will be part of thd USA/Cuba Goodwill Tour. Photo courtesy of Tim Brennan

Devon White with players who will be part of thd USA/Cuba Goodwill Tour. Photo courtesy of Tim Brennan

“I’m going to get them excited, and tell them what to expect, to be ready to play. It’s a great experience to meet kids in a different country who play the same sport. When they’re playing, there’s no language barrier,” White said.

White, who traveled to Cuba in January with several Canadian teams, said that Cuba is a very old country. “They have old cars, cobbled streets. Some still travel by horse and buggy,” he said. When the teams from Canada have travel through towns on newer, rented buses, everyone stops and watches, wondering what is going on, he said.

Cuba is beautiful, White said. “I love it, like the old buildings and the traditional architecture.” White said in many ways it reminds him of Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived as a child.

The teens will play in the same stadiums that the Cuban national teams play in, which he said are large but are also old-fashioned.

“We’re expecting some great competition,” said Tim Brennan, who is serving as local program lead for the USA-Cuba Goodwill Program, and is also an assistant coach for the West Hartford team. Brennan helped form the non-profit Teen Cultures Connect, to assist with goodwill efforts through baseball and other shared interests.

Brennan said that the kids who have been chosen for the trip have not previously played together as a team, but will all will benefit from the experience. Some have never even been out of the country.

“The trip is about baseball, but the main goal is a humanitarian purpose,” siad Brennan.

“They’re great kids,” said Brennan. They have already bonded over the fundraising they have done, raking leaves, and also participated in “Trick-or-Treat Miracle League Style,” handing out candy at the Miracle League of Connecticut’s event for special needs kids. “They’re already acting as a team,” said Brennan.

The team will also have another chance to bond at the World Series Club dinner Thursday night. The 89-year-old non-profit club, which has 200 members, meets monthly during the”hot stove” off-season and regularly brings in active and retired MLB players, coaches, and umpires to speak.

The impetus for the Cuba trip came after former MLB pitcher “Spaceman” Bill Lee, who is part of the Canada-Cuba Goodwill Tour, visited the World Series Club last March. Lee will travel to Cuba as ambassador with the West Hartford team.

 

The entire West Hartford group – about 60 that includes siblings, parents, and coaches – will bring about 700 pounds of baseball equipment, school supplies, and musical instruments to donate to the Cuban people.

To reach Holguin, the group will travel to Montreal, Canada, by bus and then fly to Cuba. Although sanctions have been lifted against travel from the U.S. to Cuba, the only available flights are to Havana, about an 8-hour distance by road from Holguin. Because Canada hasn’t had the same sanctions in place, flights to other Cuban cities are more readily available.

Much of the cost of the trip may be paid by the families, but they are fundraising and Brennan said they hope to raise enough money to bring a Cuban team to the U.S. next summer.

“The biggest portion of our fundraising is we want to bring a group of Cuban kids here,” Brennan said. They hope to raise at least $35,000-$40,000, he said. “We want to build a lasting program, and hopefully do this again next year.”

“Why do it just once? We want to to use the vehicle of baseball for goodwill and humanitarian purposes,” Brennan said.

For more information about the USA/Cuba Goodwill Baseball Tour, or to make a donation, visit the Teen Cultures Connect website.

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