Published Thursday, October 31, 2013

Climate, culture and 2,800 kilometers separate the Maritimes from Cuba, but one thing our region shares with the Caribbean nation is a love of baseball.

Cuba has had a love affair with baseball dating back to the 1800s and the country continues to churn out major league stars like Dogers outfielder

Yasiel Puig and reigning home run derby champ Yoenis Cespedes.

While Cuban players and Maritime athletes share a passion for the game, they grow up in very different conditions.

“You’ll see kids playing with no gloves and no shoes and when I saw that for the very first time, a trigger went off in my head and I was like ‘Dennis, you have to do something about this,’” says baseball coach Dennis Woodworth.

When Woodworth returned from his trip to Cuba two years ago, he came up with the idea for the Nova Scotia – Cuba Goodwill Tour, where almost three dozen kids from the Maritimes will fly to Cuba in February to compete, l earn and make friends.

The kids will play ten games, visit two schools and donate equipment and uniforms. Woodworth is very clear on what he wants his players to take away from the trip.

“To understand how fortunate they are to live where they live in Canada and also to learn from them how the game is played in a different country,” says Woodworth.

The players can’t wait for February to arrive.

“Well, one we get to go to Cuba and two, we get to go to the schools and help out,” says player Jarret Conrod.

“I’m excited to go to the schools and see all the kids there,” says player Duncan McLaughlin. “The best baseball players in the world come from

Cuba, so it should be pretty good.”

Dartmouth Arrows coach Mark William Penney visited Cuba last year and witnessed baseball, road-hockey style.

“We were actually driving home from the resort and there was a group of kids playing ball and the off-ramp was the outfield line, a home run. So, you had kids playing in one area and you had outfielders playing on the other side of the road,” says Penney.

There is still plenty of work to do to make the trip a reality; the teams need to raise $10,000 and are more than $9,000 shy.

However, the group says don’t count them out just yet. A few fundraisers are in the works, including a live auction in Dartmouth on Nov. 16.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jayson Baxter

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