CAIMANERA, Cuba — Timing is everything, it is said. For the Corban University baseball team, that phrase rang true when the Warriors baseball team from the Salem school traveled several weeks ago on a historic mission trip to Caimanera. They were the first American collegiate baseball team to play on Cuban soil since the Cuban revolution of 1959.
The idea of such a trip began when Cuba native Glenn Wilson, a pastor who now lives in New Jersey, began working with Mike Silva International, a ministry based in the Oregon town of Sisters, to bring a baseball team to do missionary work in Cuba. Through prayer and varying connections, Silva and Warriors Coach Jeff McKay became linked and the idea of a mission trip developed.
Despite the military differences between the two nations at the disputed Guantanamo Bay base, every Cuban in Caimanera welcomed the Warriors with open arms and hearts from the second they entered the city. On top of providing meals and coordinating a safe and quality location to stay, the Cubans showed their willingness to accept the Americans.
Later, on their first evening there, the team walked city streets to a dinner location beside the bay. They were welcomed by Cuban children who were playing barefoot soccer with a flat ball and small goal with no nets. They also were greeted by those who lined balconies to get a look at the newcomers.
On Day 2, the Warriors traveled to the city of Guantanamo to further immerse themselves in the country. That evening, team members were invited to a service at the city’s only church. The team enjoyed a vibrant worship service with more than 500 people, packed wall to wall and lined around the outside looking in. There also were those in the local area who watched from their roof-tops, listening to the worship music and message. That day the Warriors donated 300 Bibles to the church, along with much of their own clothing.
The team was given a hero’s welcome at the ballpark as fans lined the fence, foul pole to foul pole. Children and adults piled on top of the dugouts. The people sang the songs of their native city. The anticipation grew as Corban warmed up, and following the player introductions and pre-game gift exchanges, the stadium filled even more, as locals started surrounding the outfield. It seemed as if the entire city was at the game, cheering for both teams equally. Chants of “USA – USA – USA!” rang out from children, while adults also cheered for Corban following many good plays on the field and at the plate.
June 1 was the historic third day of the trip — the day the U.S. and Cuba made history playing baseball in Caimanera for the first time in six decades. Corban met with local Caimanera government officials first, exchanging gifts and stories on how the game of baseball is a common language.
The buzz around the city, because of Corban’s win in the first game and the manner in which the team carried itself, set up more interactive opportunities the next day at the ballpark. The locals began to arrive early, excited to witness more history. After the game, the Warriors gave jerseys, T-shirts, baseballs, bats, hats, cleats, pillows, candy and other items to the Caim-anera team, city officials, children and townspeople.
The children once again came onto the field following the donations, and hundreds and hundreds of youngsters got the opportunity to again hang out with the American players. For many it was the first time in their lives they had ever seen an American or had the opportunity to interact with one, let alone a baseball player. Corban players ran the bases, took photos, talked, smiled and laughed, touching every soul with high-fives, hugs, handshakes and the sound of their voices.
In the final game, the Navy and Gold played to an enjoyable triumph, but in the victory, something special occurred. In a mid-game presentation, Caim-anera officials presented the Warriors with gifts, thanking them for making a big difference in their town. The Warriors then read a speech of gratitude to the Caimanera people.
“We have proven to the world that our nations can not only come together, but play together.” said Warrior speaker, Austin Guzzon.
The Warriors then linked arms with the Cuban players and prayed over the loudspeaker for everyone in attendance to hear.