HYANNIS – Barnstable High School became Cape Cod’s own Little Havana on Thursday afternoon as a small group of senior softball players from Cuba visited for about two hours, chatting with students and faculty about culture, the Red Sox and even breaking into an impromptu dance.
“Bienvenidos,” Grace Lytle, World Language Department head, said as she held open the front doors to the school.
As the ballplayers, family members and interpreters lagged behind in the sun-soaked parking lot she became more forceful: “Vamonos,” she said.
The Cuban visitors are here to play in the Cape Cod Senior Softball Classic, an annual tournament for players 60 and older that draws teams from as far away as the home of the real Little Havana, Florida. This year there are 55 teams in the tournament, said Terry Moran, a member of the league’s board of directors.
The side trip to Barnstable High was inspired by a trip faculty members and students made in the opposite direction in the spring.
“One of the beautiful things about things like this is you get to meet people,” Lytle said about the April trip to Cuba.
Inside the school students and members of the Cuban softball team, called Los Veteranos, chatted in Spanish about their experiences before a brief tour of the building.
“What did you like best about Cuba?” Cesar Fernandez, 62, asked students who had visited his country.
“The people,” said Kathryn Lawler, 17, of Osterville.
Later, Lawler said people in Cuba were genuine and immediately welcoming.
“It wasn’t at all artificial,” she said. “It was from the heart.”
Cassie Castro, 17, of Cotuit, said the Cubans held no grudges against Americans but talked about how they wished they had more resources.
Both teens said they plan to major in international relations and hope the trip to the U.S. helps break down any stereotypes the ballplayers may have about America the same way it did for their expectations of Cuba.
“I hope it means to them what it meant to us to go there,” Lawler said.
As the group walked through the school library and the Cobb Astro Park, where players posed with busts including famed American baseball player Jackie Robinson, Joe Ciccone, of Groton, pointed out the famous Cuban players wandering around.
Like a true fan Ciccone pointed out Rey Anglada, considered perhaps the best second baseman in Cuban baseball history and a former manager of Industriales – a team akin to the New York Yankees because of how good they are and how baseball fans either love or hate them – and the country’s national team. And then there was Pedro Chavez, who also managed Industriales and the national team, and who, although from a different era, is considered a legend of Cuban baseball.
“They were both amazing players,” said one of the team’s interpreters, 38-year-old Dayron Gonzalez, who compared Chavez to former Yankees manager Joe Torre.
And they’re still very good at softball, said Ciccone, who plays in the Eastern Massachusetts Senior Softball League, which first connected with the Cuban team and has exchanged visits with them for the past six years.
“They are probably going to kick our butts,” he said.
Through Gonzalez, Anglada said this trip was his first time in Boston and that he liked everything he had seen so far.
The Cuban team has been practicing regularly, Anglada, 61, said, adding that he has an injured finger but expects to play.
“The idea is to come and participate,” he said. “If we win that will be much better.”
Inside Knight Auditorium students from other classes joined the tour group, separating into smaller groups to ask questions of the players, who seemed to revel in the interaction, including a student and player dancing on stage together.
It was Cesar Fernandez’s third time in the U.S. and he was once again impressed by the “great hospitality,” he said through Gonzalez.
As for Cape Cod?
“I haven’t seen anything yet,” he said with a smile.
From the high school the players were headed to Harwich Junior Theatre to meet their host families and have lunch. The tournament begins today.
By Patrick Cassidy, Cape Cod Times
September 05, 2014