The 2013 Goodwill Tour of Cuba is only a pitch away for the St. Albert Cardinals.
The 10-player roster of Cardinals in the 12-to-14 age range leaves Feb. 1 for the sporting and cultural event of a lifetime.
“The education that all these players and parents will gain from the experience of going down to Cuba to see how the locals there live their life compared to what we have here will be incredible. They will find out how fortunate we are to live in a country like Canada,” said head coach Dave Beattie.
The Cardinals have three games scheduled against teams of the same age in Varadero, Matanza and Havana.
“The players are very excited but they are also a little bit nervous,” Beattie said. “I’m sure once we get down there and they go into their first game they’ll be nervous and tight.”
The Cardinals are swinging the bats and fielding grounders this winter in preparation for their epic adventure.
“I have no problems getting all the players motivated to come out to practice,” Beattie said. “Most of the players have been taking winter baseball camps between what SAMBA puts on and at the Kinsmen (Sports Centre). We’ve had a couple of our own team practices but we’ll really be gearing up in the beginning of January in getting all aspects of the game worked on before we leave.”
There are no set positions for the players. The majority played peewee AA last summer.
“I want them to get a feel for all the positions,” Beattie said.
This is the third time a peewee team representing the St. Albert Minor Baseball Association will play ball in the northern Caribbean island and Beattie was part of the coaching staffs with the 2004 and 2008 Goodwill Tours.
“Once I got back into coaching last year I was approached to see if I would be interested in getting this going again for 2013,” said SAMBA’s vice-president.
“I felt we should try and keep the tradition going. The previous two trips have certainly been an education.”
A variety of fundraising initiatives kept the Cardinals busy.
“All the parents, players and siblings have worked very hard on fundraising to make this trip a success. Everyone involved realizes the importance to work as a team, with the final goal to raise enough funds to meet the purpose of this trip,” Beattie said.
“We’ve done bottle drives, a silent auction pub night and we’ve sold raffle tickets for two people to come and join us on our trip. We’ve also had very good corporate sponsorship from local St. Albert vendors and companies.
“We want to make sure we’ve got sufficient funds raised before we go. We just never know about the costs that might jump out at the last moment that might surprise us but I’m confident we have met our goals for this trip.”
As in past trips the Cardinals will donate baseball equipment and school supplies to the Cuban players. A school in Varadero will also benefit from the Cardinals’ generosity.
“The players understand the importance of raising money for what the end goals of the trip is to be. When there was fundraising to be done, such as bottle drives, they were all there ready to go,” said Beattie.
He is confident everything will go according to plan in Cuba.
“The hardest aspect of the whole trip is making sure our logistics on the other end in Cuba have been taken care of, like getting the games organized, but we have a wonderful contact down there who has been doing a great deal of work for us. He’s confirmed up everything, such as the game times, bus transportation and translators, so we should be OK.”