Help us bring goodwill and much needed supplies to our Cuban neighbors!

We are a group of baseball-loving kids and parents from the Philadelphia area going on a historic baseball and humanitarian tour throughout the country of Cuba!  

Our US-Cuba goodwill tour begins December 26th 2016.  During our trip, we will play a 5 game baseball schedule, do meaningful community outreach and service work, and have deep family and cultural interactions.  We are excited to deliver supplies to disadvantaged Cuban kids and their communities.

The point of the trip is not wins and losses, but to serve as ambassadors for the city of Philadelphia and proudly represent the USA.  All the while, we expect our kids to be both teachers and students, learning and showing how different our worlds may be, but really how similar we all are.

 

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In uncertain times, Philly kids head to Cuba to play ball

 

Updated: DECEMBER 18, 2016 — 3:01 AM EST

In the glass-walled room overlooking the action, their parents, who will travel with them, mulled the logistics of a journey trickier than any they had ever undertaken.

 

What type of currency should they carry? How much? What are they permitted to bring, and, more important, leave behind?

Assembled informally a few months ago by a handful of baseball-loving friends in Philadelphia's suburbs, predominantly Lower Merion, this self-funded team is set to embark on a goodwill sports trip to Cuba.

 

The itinerary has them leaving Miami the day after Christmas, landing in Santa Clara, touring Havana and its outskirts, playing five games against a premier Cuban youth team, and returning New Year's Day.

What began as a rare opportunity to experience the sport inside baseball-obsessed Cuba, however, has taken on a deeper purpose, given recent events.

 

The point of the trip now, organizers of the Philly-Cuba Goodwill Tour 2016 say, is not to tally wins and losses. Rather, they want to be citizen-ambassadors at a time when President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to end the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement begun two years ago under President Obama, and the recent death of Fidel Castro has ratcheted up the political uncertainty in the island nation.

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal," Trump tweeted Nov. 27, two days after Castro died.

"It would be foolish not to take the president-elect at his word. Others in the future may not have this opportunity," said Alan Tauber, a Philadelphia lawyer who along with his wife, Andrea Weiss, a rabbi, helped conceive the goodwill tour. Their son, Ilan, 13, a student at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, is a player.

 

The team has a website, phillycubabaseball.com, but no formal name. "From the Cubans' perspective," said a parent-organizer, "we'll probably be called 'the Philly Kids.' "

 

As a "people-to-people" cultural exchange, the trip is a permitted exception to the half-century-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

The 11 teammates, all 13 and 14 years old, don't appear to know a lot about the roots of the animosity between the two nations, which began in 1961 after the United States closed its embassy in Havana and severed diplomatic ties. It intensified a year later with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

 

"I know Cuba is very old, without much money, and it's a communist country," said 13-year-old Ryan Orlov, of Bala Cynwyd, a catcher.

As parents, "we have a little more historical perspective," said Ryan's father, Steve "Wally" Orlov, 53. "We understand the magnitude" of reestablishing U.S.-Cuba relations.

Jon Rubin, the Friends Central School baseball coach, has donated his time to shape the Americans, including his 13-year-old son, Justin, into a cohesive team.

 

But during a recent fund-raiser for the trip at the Greeks Bar & Restaurant in Narberth, Rubin, of Bryn Mawr, expressed a hope that the two countries also will swap players for some games to minimize the inherent ethnocentrism in their competition.

"It would be so cool," he said, "to see our kids playing side by side."

 

However, not everyone is on board with the venture. The parents of "one or two" invited players "made the decision that they are not going to go" because of "principled objections to Cuba's communist regime," Tauber said.

On Dec. 30, the team is scheduled to meet Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the first presidential choice for U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 55 years, at his residence in Havana.

 

The trip also has a humanitarian purpose. The Americans will deliver much-needed nonprescription medicines and reading glasses to a Catholic church and a synagogue in Havana. In the towns where they play, they will donate a mountain of baseball equipment, including dozens of balls, bats, gloves, hats, and jerseys.

 

Sponsors include Nike and Pocket Radar, maker of speed-measurement devices, as well as Pitch in for Baseball, a Harleysville nonprofit that provides equipment to boys and girls around the world.

 

They "jumped over themselves to help us out," said Orlov, a board member of Lower Merion Little League, who used his extensive contacts in the world of youth baseball to generate donations.

 

The Phillies organization stepped up, too, donating 14 gloves, 50 Phillies T-shirts, 100 caps, 10 sets of cleats, four Easton bats, and eight dozen Rawlings baseballs. The youth team plans to carry 30 rolling duffels of paraphernalia.

 

Including parents and siblings, the U.S. entourage will comprise about 30 people, each paying about $3,500, including airfare and room and board. A parent who wished to remain anonymous is covering the costs for a couple of players who lacked the money to go.

The American players are packing three jerseys - red, white, and blue. Each is decorated with the crossed flags of the United States and Cuba.

 

The shirts also bear the bordered monogram JF-16, to memorialize the initials and jersey number of Jose Fernandez, the spectacular Cuba-born pitcher for the Miami Marlins who died in a boating accident in September.

 

The Americans expect to leave their jerseys behind, or trade them for souvenirs offered by the Cuban players.

They will be keepsakes from a moment in time, said Tauber, in a Cuba "likely to be passing from history in its current form."

 

mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541@MichaelMatza1

Area Kids to Play Baseball in Cuba

Lower Merion >> Baseball is as American as apple pie. What better way to make friends with Cubans than take a team of 13 and 14 year old baseball players to Cuba?

Baseball has been popular in Cuba since the late 1800s and with the thawing of relations between the U.S. and the still Communist country, some area parents decided to take 11-baseball loving boys to Cuba to play five games there and also provide sports equipment, uniforms, toothbrushes and other items to their Cuban counterparts.

Parent Wally Orlov, who has been active in the Lower Merion Little League for years, said, “We could have just flown to Cuba, played baseball and gone to the beach. We’re trying to make it service-oriented instead.” So each person going is bringing an extra piece of luggage with items to give their Cuban counterparts. The kids packed some 2,000 pounds of care packages on Nov. 8, including 100 new bats, baseball cards, and stickers for siblings of the Cuban players. Pitch in for Baseball a Harleysville nonprofit, Nike and the Phillies are among the donors.

 

And now in the wake of the recent death of the former Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, the trip will be even more significant, said Orlov, who does not believe it will have an impact on the logistics of the trip.

Jose Fernandez, a famous baseball player from Cuba also died this year, he noted. Orlov believes Castro’s death will be a “big topic of conversation” with the Cubans they meet.  “I can’t imagine a more interesting time to make the trip,” said Orlov.

“I have always wanted to go to Cuba and see the country,” said Alan Tauber, of Bala Cynwyd, another parent. His interest stems from reading Earnest Hemingway in college. “When the president lifted the sanctions, I thought of ways to go.” As he coached the Lower Merion Rams, a Little League travel team, he began to think about exploring how to take a team of kids there and the idea for the Philly-Cuba team, coached by Friends Central Coach John Rubin, was born. Previously, they took the team to Cooperstown, N.Y. to see the National Baseball Hall of Fame and that went well, Tauber said. So a group of about 30, including some parents and siblings, will fly Cuba on Dec. 26 and stay until New Year’s Day.
 

One of the teammates is no stranger to world travel. Nikolas Toocheck, 13, has run marathons on all seven continents raising money for Coats for Kids and he continues to run to raise funds for SEVA, a foundation that provides services to restore eyesight to the poor. He’s garnered more than $50,000 in contributions so far.

“It was his idea. He calls it ‘Nick runs the world,’” said his father, Daniel Toocheck, an eye doctor and his son’s running partner.

Nikolas Toocheck said that he likes raising money to help others and enjoys running.

“You take it one step at a time and keep going,” said Nikolas Toocheck, an 8th grader at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square.

 

The team is also bringing the Cubans flash drives because the internet is limited there, said Daniel Toocheck. And Motus Global has donated some its high-tech devices to help prevent elbow injuries from pitching. They’re also bringing donated cellphones and small radar guns to show the speed of pitches, he said.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Jack Donahoe, 14, of Chadds Ford, an 8th grader at Friends Central. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to go on this trip and learn about another culture.”

 

Jake Rasmussen, 14, of Narberth, a student at Welsh Valley Middle School, said, “I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see how they are. It’ll be good to help them out. I hope we can do some good over there. I know it’ll be a once in a lifetime experience.”


Sam Chairman, 13, of Haverford, who is in 7th grade at The Shipley School, enjoys being on a team and usually is the catcher or third baseman, agreed that he’s excited to go to Cuba.  “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Just recently it became legal to go there.”

Ilan Tauber, 12, is a catcher, pitcher and outfielder, who goes to Bala Cynwyd Middle School. Baseball is “my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I think it’s a really cool thing to try to meet people (in Cuba). Hardly anyone has been there and to help out is really cool.”

 

Ryan Orlov, 13, a student at Welsh Valley Middle School, is also excited to go to Cuba.

“I think it’s very special and I’m thankful I can be a part of it,” said Orlov, a young entrepreneur who started a tech company when he was 10 years old.

 

Pam Goodman, his mother, said that some of the kids on the Cuban teams that the Philly-Cuban team will play have no shoes and use milk cartons as mitts, so bringing them real equipment will be a pleasure. Compare that with the American kids who will be deprived of the internet, Instagram or Snapchat for a week, she said.

 

“We have everything here without even thinking about it,” said Goodman. “Think of this year’s election. Here you can vote for whom you want and even protest. We’re going to a country where if you say anything about the country or the government you can go to jail.”

For more information or to contribute go to: http://www.phillycubabaseball.com/

Youth Baseball Trip to Cuba a New Sign of the Times

 

DECEMBER 7, 2016By: 

Jon Marks | JE Staff

Next to cigars and its nightlife, Cuba has always been known for baseball. 

 

Even before the late Fidel Castro took over as prime minister and later president and essentially cut off avenues for Cuban ballplayers to make their way to the major leagues, it was a major part of the country’s existence. Ernest Hemingway even wrote about it in The Old Man and the Sea. 

From there, it was passed down generation to generation until, late in Castro’s reign, Americans finally got a glimpse of just how good many Cubans were. Today, Major League Baseball (MLB) is flooded with standouts like José Abreu, Yoenis Céspedes, Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman.

 

That gives you a bit of a clue what 11 local teenagers — several of them Jewish — are in for when they head to Havana during Chanukah to play a series of games against their Cuban counterparts.

 

It’s the culmination of a whirlwind five-month odyssey in which they not only arranged the schedule, but were able to seek out sponsors to help defray costs and/or donate some of the 1,200 pounds of equipment they’re bringing along.

“When the idea was first presented to us, one of our worries was we wouldn’t have a lot of time to recruit kids,” said assistant coach Steve Orloff, whose son, Ryan, pitches and plays three other positions. “We were worried not only about finding good baseball players, but kids who could handle being ambassadors of Philadelphia and the U.S. 

 

“The power of what we’re doing is pretty strong. We couldn’t come up with any type of youth sports trip that’s been like this.”

On Dec. 26, 30 area players, parents and other family members will fly from Philadelphia to Miami, then on to Santa Clara, the home of José Fernández, the right-handed sensation of the Florida Marlins, who was killed in a late-season boating accident. In tribute, the players will all wear his No. 16 on their jerseys.

 

Santa Clara is about two hours from Havana, where most of the games will take place against competition probably a notch or two above what the local contingent normally plays.

 

“Our first scrimmage is against their pre-academy team,” said the 53-year-old Orloff, a retired investment manager from Bala Cynwyd. “Those teams have some of the top players on the island. 

 

“Those kids are going to the same academy as Céspedes and Puig, so we know we’re going to play some good ballplayers.”

Not that head coach Jon Rubin’s team is by any means shabby.

 

“We’re solid,” said Rubin, head coach at Friends’ Central School the past three years. “We have some pretty good athletes, but it’s the national sport in Cuba. We don’t know who we’re playing, but I guarantee they’re going to be phenomenal.”

 

What Rubin would like to do is play a few innings straight up against a couple of Cuban teams, then mix up the rosters.

 

“Everybody’s competitive, so I’m sure they’ll want to show us they can play, and we want to show them we can play. But after a few innings it would be magical to combine forces.”

 

In preparation for the trip, the kids have been learning Spanish and studying Cuban history. In the process, Orloff, a history buff, has read about oppression under Castro.

 

 “The last month or two, I’ve been reading about the dictatorship and understand how corrupt the Cuban government was and Castro’s hatred of the U.S.,” Orloff said. “So where we stand today is a very positive thing. I’m hoping we can show the goodness of Americans and teach and learn. That’s the point of the trip.”

 

The trip will include Rabbi Andrea Weiss, who’d like to take them on a tour of some synagogues in Cuba and lead them in celebrating Chanukah. Her husband, Alan Tauber, is one of the driving forces behind the trip, which will include their son, Ilan. 

 

According to The Daily Beast, less than 1,500 Jews now live in Cuba, 85 percent of them in Havana, where there are three synagogues. Prior to Castro, Cuba was a Jewish oasis, with more than 15,000 Jews. 

 

“It really morphed from ‘What a great idea to see Cuba and play baseball’ to sort of a goodwill tour,” said Rubin, who’s bringing his entire family, including 13-year-old Justin, a player on the team. “It’s very service-oriented, because we’re bringing needed supplies and equipment.

 

“But it’s just an amazing time to be going there. This will give Justin the ability to see another culture run under a different form of government so close to our country [and] to really understand the similarities between the people and yet different life circumstances we live in. 

 

“The ability to do this interacting with their people in sports will be tremendously enlightening and a much different experience than just being a tourist.” 

Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729 

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For more information, please contact:

PhillyCubaBaseball@gmail.com

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