Two pieces of exciting new apparel just arrived at Reckling Park in anticipation of Rice University baseball’s trip to Cuba beginning on Nov. 23. Just last week, the team received customized Rice baseball caps with the American flag and Cuban flag intertwined and proudly stitched on the side. The team has also received new custom-made jerseys that will be worn once the squad touches down in Cuba. Staying ever true to Rice, the jerseys read “Los Buhos” (translated to “The Owls”). Two cultures are set to collide over one common passion, as baseball is a key fixture not only to Rice University but also to Cuba.
The Owls will visit Cuba for 12 days, beginning on Nov. 23 and ending on Dec. 4; they will be the first college baseball team to do so since President Obama helped restore diplomatic relations between the two countries . Rice will play multiple exhibition games against professional teams from the Cuban Baseball Federation. The games will serve as their fall exhibitions, tune ups before the lull between fall ball and spring preseason preparation.
Rice will face some tough competition abroad. Recently, players who have transitioned from the Cuban Baseball Federation to Major League Baseball in the United States have seen great success. While not all of their opponents will play at the level of major leaguers, the Owls are prepared to face stiff competition.
The trip also has a unique “study abroad” element to it, as the Owls are required to participate in two separate 3-credit courses to be eligible for the trip. The two courses are spearheaded by one of Rice’s Latin American professors, Luis Duno-Gottberg.
Duno-Gottberg is the associate professor of Caribbean and film studies and the chair of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American studies. He has been taking his classes to Cuba for eight years, but he said this year’s class has been unique.
“I [pieced] together all my prior experiences of writing, researching and studying about Cuba and shape it a slightly different way,” Duno-Gottberg said. “I took elements of my regular [Cuban culture] class and combined it with the history of Cuban baseball.”
The first course, taught during this fall semester, is called Trends in Cuban Culture. The second course is a combination of Directed Study Abroad Credit, a self-reflection journal from each player during the trip and 42 additional hours of instruction once players land in Cuba. Duno-Gottberg said he hopes the class has given students a better understanding of the history and culture of the nation.
“It is important they see how baseball, beyond the game itself, relates to issues of race relations, politics, the Cold War, migration, immigration and more,” Duno-Gottberg said.
The hours of instruction in Cuba will be mostly instructional but will also include an Old Havana tour, visits to the University of Havana, Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Revolution, the playas (beaches) and the U.S. Embassy.
Books on the syllabus for the class included The Pride of Havana, a critically acclaimed novel surrounding the history of Cuban baseball, and Bitter Fruit, an account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. Required reading and online articles covered topics ranging from Marxism to wage labor to the study of Cuban art.
Sophomore pitcher Brent Schwarz said he has learned a significant amount about Cuban-American relations.
“[Our class] has been introduced to a much more complex picture of not only Cuban-American relations but also the U.S’s role in Latin American history as a whole,” Schwarz said. “Our professors have provided an eye opening reality of just how [influential] Cuba is in regard to global history. ”
Schwarz is looking forward to visiting a country rich in culture and bonding over the sport of baseball. He said he is excited to face elite competition from the talented Cuban Baseball Federation.
“It’s awesome that baseball is a pivotal piece of [their] rich culture, and we get to bond with Cuban players over that common passion.” Schwarz said. “We’ve been told the competition will be strong and the games will be dynamic. That’s good for us and good for baseball.”