BRIDGEWATER, NS – A lot of people go South this time of year to escape the Winter for some rest and relaxation. At the end of January more than 400 young baseball players from Atlantic Canada will be travelling to sunny Cuba, to enjoy the sun and spread some goodwill.
It’s called the Goodwill Tour. The idea is to play some baseball, and grow a friendships and support the Cubans in growing their baseball system and school programs.
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The sound of baseball hitting metal bats and the smack of balls entering gloves rang out around the indoor facility in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where about 40 players were training for their upcoming trip. The Goodwill Tour has grown from two Nova Scotia teams in it’s first year, to five from this province – two of them female – plus two from PEI, and one each from Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Winnipeg. The players from 10 to 16 years of age will play baseball over a three week period in February at Matanzas, Cuba.
“It’s one of the safest places I’ve ever seen and one of the most passionate places I’ve ever been in regards to baseball,” says Dennis Woodworth, when asked why the group chose to go to that region.
Woodworth is the Program Developer of the Goodwill Tour. He says to grow the sport, Cuba needs fields and equipment, and he wants Canadians to learn how fortunate they are in this country.
Third baseman Marcus Bishop went to Cuba last year and saw the needs first hand. “Kids playing with like a piece of wood and a rock or something, just playing baseball on the side of the road,” he recalls. “They don’t have a field or nothing down there.”
Each of the 450 players raised about $1,800. for the trip. They’re not all-star teams, notes Woodworth. “We pick the players on their level of sportsmanship. They’re pro-active individuals in their community and their school programs.”
Besides playing ball each day, Woodworth has other plans for the Cubans and Canadians. “We have bus tours throughout the week,” he says. “We have Cuban kids coming to our resorts on Thursdays, we visit schools on Wednesdays, so we give a real depiction of what it’s like to live in a third world country.”
Last year the Nova Scotian teams presented the Cubans with 15-thousand dollars worth of baseball equipment. “You feel really good to give people all that stuff down there, since they’re less fortunate and everything,” says Bishop. “It’s a great experience. I can’t wait to go back down.”
This year, Canadian teams will hand out $75,000. worth of baseball equipment and school supplies, donated by companies and minor baseball associations across the Maritime provinces.
Hannah Shea is a pitcher and infielder. She’s proud to be taking part in the program. “Being the first girls team to go down there and getting all that started with the girls teams will be a wonderful experience,” she says. “I can’t wait to be able to give school supplies and being able to see the looks on their faces.”
Woodworth adds, “We’re not only helping people in the world, but we’re also learning how to be great humanitarians.”
A bonus for the Canadian team: former major league players Bill Lee and Devon White will be guest coaches with the teams during the first week of the tour. In March, the organization will hold fund-raising dinners in hopes of bringing a Cuban team to the Maritimes in late June.
The first group of players heads out on Jan. 31.