Cardinals fly to Cuba
Goodwill Tour for bantam-age baseball players includes games and acts of kindness
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 25, 2014 06:00 am
A St. Albert bantam-age baseball team will play the game of life during the 2014 Goodwill Tour of Cuba.
Thirteen players will see first-hand what the sport means to the baseball-mad Cubans who struggle to eke out a living on the northern Caribbean island.
“It’s definitely going to be an eye opener for all of us,” said Jason Enright, head coach of the touring Cardinals.
They are the fourth St. Albert Minor Baseball Association team since 2004 to combine baseball with acts of kindness with donations of baseball uniforms and equipment, plus other supplies to the Cuban players.
“The experience and the memory of doing something really different through the sport of baseball, combined with helping out some kids down there, is going to be amazing,” Enright said. “I have quite a few kids on the team that quite honestly haven't been out of Alberta so to go someplace like that, where baseball is such a huge cultural thing for them, is going to open a lot of eyes. They don't have some of the basic necessities to play baseball, whereas in St. Albert we’re really blessed to have the awesome facilities we have with our diamonds and access to anything we need for baseball.”
The Cardinals arrive in Varadero next Saturday and the sporting and cultural adventure starts with Sunday’s doubleheader in Cardenas. They also play two games in Matanzas and the final game is Feb. 6 in Havana.
SAMBA’s previous Goodwill Tour teams were peewee age and they played fewer games than what the Cardinals have scheduled.
“I wanted to get the players as much baseball as I could so it’s going to be more baseball filled in relation to past years where they only played three games,” said Enright, head coach of the 2013 bantam AA Cardinals.
He was assured by the team’s Cuban contact the Cardinals will play against teams of the same age group.
“We wanted to make sure we’re not going down there and play 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds and he guaranteed and confirmed the kids would be a maximum age of 16, which is the cusp of second-year bantam players,” said the 2011 Baseball Canada Grassroots Coach of the Year in Alberta.
The Cardinals are using the same contact person that assisted with the 2004, 2008 and 2013 Goodwill Tours.
“He’s been through this process before and it’s been unbelievable how easy it is if we need to get information. That’s a great link from the previous people that had been there before,” Enright said. “With the exception of the first year they went there has always been a repeat member of SAMBA going except for this year. We’re all kind of new at it so there have been a few questions along the way and it’s been easy to get the information to make sure that we’re all set up and a lot of that is based upon the history that SAMBA has from going on this trip before.”
Last summer SAMBA was planning on sending two teams to Cuba and vice-president Dave Beattie asked Enright if he would like to coach the bantam line-up.
“I said I was definitely interested and told him to keep me updated,” said Enright.
He received confirmation in August the trip was a go for the bantams but not the peewees.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Enright said. “When I took the reins I started selecting players that would be able to make it with the time commitment and cost and as September rolled around when we were in our fall ball season I had the basis of 13 players from our association.”
The Goodwill Tour roster features Connor Bronson, Logan Buchanan, Rossario Cammaratta, Jacob Enright, Jarrett Landry, Callum McEwen and Quintin Scaber from Enright’s bantam AA Cardinals.
They are joined by SAMBA fall ball players Danny Tkachyk of St. Albert, Nick Arila, Braden Charchuk and Tate Clifford of the Northeast Zone and Leduc products Harrison and Nelson Cabel.
This is the first Goodwill Tour team to include players from outside of St. Albert.
All the players worked together on various fundraising projects to make the trip possible.
“Most of these boys are second-year bantams moving up to midget,” said Enright, who will assisted by Craig McEwen from his bantam AA team and Doug Cabel, coach of the bantam Leduc Giants.