YOUTH BASEBALL PROGRAM and
NATIONAL TENNIS CENTER PROJECT
The Cuban-American Friendship Society in 2016 presented a unique opportunity for youth and little league players from the United States to compete on the diamond against Cuban little league teams-- a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage as youth ambassadors while playing baseball. Amid the highs and lows of the 20th and 21st centuries relationship between the United States and Cuba, one constant has been the American and Cuban obsession with baseball.
Historically, Cuba has provided Major League Baseball with some of its greatest and most exciting stars. In turn, many great American players of the Golden Age of baseball also spent time playing ball and vacationing in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. In this course, participants could follow the footsteps of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio in Havana. They learned about the effect of politics on the game. From Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez’s remarkable journey to the United States aboard a flimsy raft to President Jimmy Carter getting pitching advice from Fidel Castro at a game during a non-state visit to the island in 2002, the game of baseball has never ceased to capture the imagination of the masses in the United States and Cuba.
Under a people-to-people exchange, youth participants had the opportunity to play against five different local youth teams in the vicinity of Havana. The program allowed participants to learn about the history of the game in Cuba and in the process create a bond with ordinary Cubans they met over their shared love of the truly “American” pastime of “beisbol.”
NATIONAL TENNIS CENTER PROJECT
The Cuban-American Friendship Society is committed to engaging in humanitarian projects in Cuba in order to deepen the ties between the people of our two nations. Jake Agna, a local tennis pro from Burlington, Vermont, had a vision of enhancing the profile of tennis in Cuba. Upon his first visit to Cuba with us, Mr. Agna fell in love with the country and its youth and decided to provide an even greater gift to its people -- the renovation of the tennis courts at the National Tennis Center in Havana.
Built for the 1992 Pan-American Games, the National Tennis Center had fallen into disrepair due to the harsh climate and the general lack of funds for ongoing maintenance and repairs. The Cuban-American Friendship Society secured a historic first-time specific export license from the US Department of Commerce to export materials to Cuba in order to renovate and refinish the tennis courts at the National Tennis Center. The project was successfully completed in January of 2016. Nothing like this had been done in nearly six decades.
The renovated courts provided the opportunity to conduct childrens’ tennis clinics for underprivileged urban Cuban youth. Jake—through the nonprofit he founded, Kids on the Ball— and the Cuban American Friendship Society donated a significant amount of sports equipment and apparel to Cuban youth while conducting some of these preliminary tennis clinics. Thank you to everyone who donated to this project!
For more information about the National Tennis Center Project:
Cuban Friendship Through Tennis
Video about Cuban Tennis Center Project. Includes interviews with:
Armando Vilaseca, current Executive Director and longtime member of CAFS, and former Vermont Secretary of Education;
Former CAFS Executive Director, Jared Carter; and
Jake Agna, founder of Kids on the Ball.