Baseball, international goodwill and great weather provided the perfect combination for the now well-established friendship between the Chemainus & District Baseball Association and Union de Reyes, Cuba.
Cuba Journey 2018 brought more teams and districts into the relationship, with a full slate of games at Evans Park in Duncan and extending to Victoria to include the West Coast League’s Harbour Cats.
“Everybody’s still having the time of their life,” said Chemainus & District Baseball Association vice president Rick Shay. “It’s just amazing.”
A Chemainus group visited Cuba for the first time in 2016 and again the last two years. The tours were reciprocated by bringing the Cubans to Canada last year and a much-anticipated return in July.
The Cuban group has remained almost the same, other than three players from the original members who went into the army.
“Three new guys, they’re beyond belief what’s happening to them,” noted Shay.
The series of games at Evans Park got going with the Duncan Nationals taking on the Cubans and receiving a lesson in the finer points of the game during a 10-0 loss.
The Cowichan Valley Mustangs didn’t fare much better the next night during a 12-2 loss at the hands of Union de Reyes.
The Ladysmith Pilots provided tough competition for the Cubans in a 7-7 tie. “That was a really good game,” Shay indicated.
Further games against Campbell River teams, the Victoria Mavericks and the Chemainus Brewers produced an undefeated record for the Cuban team.
The Brewers were actually the first team to hold the lead on Union de Reyes in a wild Sunday afternoon game in the searing heat. The Brewers were up 7-5 after two innings, but a pair of seven-run outbursts propelled the Cubans to an eventual streak of 17 straight runs and a 22-7 victory.
A highlight of the trip was a game between Union de Reyes and the Harbour Cats at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.
More than 2,400 people turned out to watch on a Monday night and the Cubans prevailed 8-4 in a textbook example of baseball at its finest at that level.
“It’s the largest crowd they had on a mid-week game,” Shay pointed out.
And the visitors did not disappoint.
“They made some amazing plays,” said Shay. “They were tuned in for the game. The Harbour Cats were impressed.”
The tour wrapped up with a fun game Aug. 1 between the Brewers and the Cubans. The players were swapped around, with five of the best Cubans joining the Brewers and three from the Chemainus squad going over to the other side.
The end of another chapter in the journey brought much reflection from members of both sides.
“We have so much gratitude to pass on to you all from the Union de Reyes team,” noted Shay. “They give much thanks to all of you for all your support and generosity to them.
“We have had much interest with people coming up to us to get involved in continuing this journey. We would love to hear from you if you would like to be involved and we can see what this next chapter of this journey can look like.”
The journey has not totally ended in the fundraising portion, Shay added. Commemorative T-shirts are still available for $15 each to help keep the journey going and cover costs. They are $15 each. There are adult sizes – small, large, extra large and double extra large – left.
Purchases can be arranged by leaving a message on the Cuban Baseball Journey – Union De Reyes Tour 2017-18 Facebook page.