Canada sends ball players to tee off in Cuba

Pitcher Geoff Freeborn will be among players in the goodwill golf tour.
Pitcher Geoff Freeborn will be among players in the goodwill golf tour.

CALGARY, Alberta – While the sun-and-sand landscape of Cuba is mostly unchanged for Canadians, Geoff Freeborn and a group of U15 baseball players from Alberta will soon experience the new, progressive ways of the Caribbean island some 150 km off the Florida coast.

Alongside ambassadors Devon White, a former Toronto Blue Jays centre fielder, and Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee, a former left-hander with the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, Freeborn and his team will be there from April 8-15 to play a series of games as part of the Caribbean Baseball Goodwill Tours.

While a number of teams from eastern Canada have taken part in the past, it’s a Cuban debut of sorts for Alberta as the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba deepens under President Barack Obama’s easing of the decades-long embargo.

“It’s not necessarily going to be a full on Team Alberta – we don’t have all the top 15-and-under players – but we were able to get a good group of players and, hopefully, we’ll be able to compete with them,” said Freeborn, a former sidewinding left-handed pitcher with the now-defunct Calgary Vipers and a member of the 1999 Canadian junior national team.

Between the white lines, competing is always the goal.

But away from the field, especially considering the timing, there’s an educational aspect to the trip for everyone involved.

Freeborn and his wife were actually vacationing in Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014, the day Obama announced he was patching up the relationship, paving the way for his trip this week.

“We were in Havana that day so it was kind of curious to hear their take on it,” recalled Freeborn, who keeps his days busy as a coach with Babe Ruth Calgary Baseball, Coyote Baseball and the National Sport Academy.

“I mean, everyone kind of seemed excited about it. I think they do realize how poor their country is and that will, hopefully, increase the tourism and money in Cuba.”

That extends to baseball and the team from Alberta will also be taking along some equipment to donate next month.