First Games Are Easy, But Livin' Is Tough

September 18, 1990|By Bernie Walter

Editor's note: Arundel High baseball coach Bernie Walter recently returned from Cuba, where he coached the U.S. Junior National baseball team at the World Championships. The American team, which consisted of 18 of the best 17-and 18-year-old players from throughout the country, finished third behind Cuba and Taipei with a 6-2 record. The following is the first of three parts of the journal he kept about his experiences in Cuba.

Day 1, Aug. 23 11:27 p.m.: Left the Florida Keys.

12:05 a.m.: 38-minute flight. As is traditional, the Cuban Junior team met us, and many applauded when we landed. TV cameras were in our faces as we deplaned. Customs checked a few bags.

Jose Marti International Airport, named after the 19th-century writer and revolutionary, had no dogs and no machine guns.

LADA Russia cars, Toyotas, old cars like '57 Chevys and Fords were in the streets.

1:30 a.m.: An old transit bus took us on a 15-minute ride through a rundown neighborhood. "Socialism or Death" signs are everywhere.

2:30 a.m.: Another check of passports. The athletes are in one room with nine bunk beds, no refrigeration, several shelves made of rod iron, cloth curtains and two air conditioners.

The coaches (Roy Korn, Jim Fuller and myself), trainer Jerry McFarland, and interpreter Hugh Howell are in one similar room, also with two room-sized air conditioners. Two florescent lights light the room. The windows are boarded up, and there is a tile floor.

There is flat pop in the refrigerator, ham and Swiss sandwiches for all.

The lavatory offers a trough-style urinal, no toilet seats, moldy toilet paper and P.E.-style shower room.

Day 2, Aug. 24 9 a.m.: Took a cold shower because there is no hot water. At breakfast had scrambled eggs, greased burgers (brutal), cheese and crackers, soda, a half-cup of thick coffee, bananas and watermelon.

10 a.m.: Three radio interviews. Reporter was very nervous. Hugh Howell translated. We did the same questions over and over and over again.

11 a.m.: Everyone got credentials that must be worn at all times, especially by the Latin and black players on our team because they look Cuban.

11:20 a.m.: Coaching staff tours the "Olympic Village" in Havana. "The Villa" is beautiful ... was owned by the "Tropicana" people ... marble and mahogany everywhere. The grounds are now a park, school, etc., but they're rundown. Nothing is painted. Everything is rundown. The neighborhood outside the fence is worse. It looks like the Bronx.

2 p.m.: Technical committee meeting. Mexico and Venezuela will be one day late, and Nicaragua may not show. Therefore, days one and three are switched. We play France first and Nicaragua third. This really confused pitching plans.

4:30 p.m.: Riding a Toyota 24-passenger bus back to the Olympic Village. There are long lines for gasoline everywhere. Everyone seems to be walking or using the bus.

5 p.m.: Joseph, our guide, and I are planning team trips so that we can experience the Cuban culture. We need to arrange for a bus 24 hours in advance even though a bus is assigned to each team.

At almost every corner in the city people wait for gasoline (122 cars in a line at one point), food and buses. There are cars out of gasoline everywhere.

Cubans will tell you there is no crime here. That is not exactly true, because the Canadian team lost a box of food and one of the player's team bags was missing.

8 p.m.: A formal reception at the villa's garden. It amazes me that there are so few insects, especially mosquitoes.

The menu was fruit cocktail, green tomato slices, mystery meat (I was afraid to ask), fried rice and kidney beans and fried banana.

Afterward we ate cheese with a syrup of coconut and sugar while a Cuban band played and sang some pop music.

After setting up cultural trips for the team with our guide, Joseph, he gave coach Ray Horn and me a lecture on the points of interest in Havana and the benefits of communism. Joseph is a real gung-ho party member.

Day 3, Aug. 25 The players and staff are excited. We're to play our first game today. The same breakfast, as yesterday. The thick coffee was too heavy for any of us to drink.

We've quickly determined to use the toilet facilities in the morning, because the maids clean some of the toilets. Sanitation seems to be low on their priority list. This is the Third World.

We took some batting practice at Stadium No. 1. It is lighted and seats about 5,000 under a covered concrete roof. There are over 20 such fields in Havana. This is part of a large sports complex, which includes a competitive swimming and diving pool, 20,000-seat area and many fields.

We played in Latin-American Stadium. There were about 2,000 people in this stadium of 55,000.

We clobbered France, 30-0. Center fielder Bruce Thompson led the game off with a home run over the 345-foot mark into the second tier. We scored nine runs in the first inning. Jose Prado, Aaron Kreiger and Andy Lorraine pitched a one-hitter with three walks and 10 strikeouts. We didn't commit an error.

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