Baseball fever still around in West Hartford as kids head to Cuba to play ball

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WEST HARTFORD -- The World Series is over and yet they're still talking baseball in West Hartford.

It should be an exciting off-season for a team of U-14 players: the team will head to Cuba in April as part of a goodwill baseball trip.

"We're connecting kids and using baseball, which is the universal language in Cuba," said Tim Brennan an assistant coach and founder of the pilot program called Teen Cultures Connect. "I can't overstate the level of excitement."

At batting practice on an unusually warm fall afternoon, third baseman Jack Brockway said he was looking forward to playing in a country that has had so much success on the diamond.

"They have such high-caliber players down there, they are amazing, and now we're finally going to see where they come from."

Between the 18 players and parents, the team will travel in a contingency from Connecticut that totals around 60. They will stay and play in Cuba's second largest city, Holguin.

The trip, in part, has been made possible by Bill "Spaceman" Lee, a former pitcher for the Red Sox and Montreal Expos. Lee serves as a baseball ambassador and gave Brennan the idea. Brennan immediately got the wheels in motion. "I said we have to do this, now that sanctions are loosening," he said.

Eric Mallinson, a parent who is planning on make the trip south said, "A year ago we probably wouldn't be here thinking about it or even talking about it."

Between batting practice and shagging a few fly balls at West Hartford's Sedgwick Field, the players are busy trying to raise funds to buy gloves, bats and helmets to donate to their impoverished Cuban counterparts. The goal is to deliver about 700 pounds of sporting goods to the island.

"They don't have the resources we have," said Gabe Salomons, an eighth-grader and outfielder on the team. "Most of the kids don't have baseball gloves or bats so we're supplying those things."

After a few cuts at the plate, team member Matt Keller appeared ready to give his personal best and added,"It is going to be really cool to meet the (Cuban) kids and see how their life is."

Because of U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, the team will fly from Montreal to Holguin.

"I think it's going to be a great experience," Mr. Mallinson said. "I think they will have memories of this trip forever."

The West Hartford U-14 Baseball Team will be raising funds for their trip at an event for the World Series Club on Thursday, November 5 at the West Hartford VFW.

Former major league great Devon Whyte--formerly and commonly know as Devon White--will be honored at the event. Whyte, who starred for the Toronto Blue Jays, is also active in the USA-Cuba program. To find out more about the USA-Cuba Goodwill Baseball Program and Teen Cultures Connect click here.