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June 1, 2011
2ND TIME SWEET IN CUBASenior Softball-USA
HAVANA, CUBA – The second taste of Cuba was definitely sweeter for two SSUSA teams competing in the Second Cuban-American Senior Softball Classic here in February.
During the 2010 Classic, the Cuban teams handily defeated the USA teams in 8 straight games.
In stark contrast in the 2011 event, the USA White team lost the championships by a single run (21-20) -- and both USA Red and USA White teams won a number of games.
“While it certainly felt good to improve from last year, the entire experience was excellent from both a cultural and sports point of view,” said Don Stratton, manager of the USA White team and the chief executive officer of the Independent Softball Association.
The 2011 Classic pitted four Cuban teams against the two USA teams, playing under a special sports permit from the US government.
“The Cuban teams had noticeably older players compared to last year,” said Terry Hennessy, manager of the USA Red team. “Last year, we didn’t have their trust and the Cuban officials thought we were bringing younger players so they fielded teams with many 20-30 years olds.”
This year, the Cuban teams were in the 40-60 age range. The two US teams ranged from 57 to 78 years old. And competition was much closer.
But the competition was only part of the story.
On a much larger stage, the Cuban and US players and officials continued to build on friendships started in 2010.
Cuban players, whose average wage is about $125 a month, offered a number of gifts – some hand-made – to the American players with large smiles, claps on the back and friendly words.
On the last day, the Cuban Softball Federation officials, mangers of the four Cuban teams, and many of their players, came to the America hotel for a presentation of dozens of bats, gloves, shoes, bat bags and other gifts to help them continue to develop a senior softball program in Cuba. The Los Angeles Angels sent 60 caps for the teams and individual U.S. players brought bats, shoes and other equipment.
But the best gift of the Cuban-American Senior Softball Classic was the common bond of friendship based on a shared love of the sport.
Top performing players on the USA Red and USA White teams were honored at the farewell banquet in Havana. They included Best Offense: Sam Davis (Red) and Jack Aroson (White), Best Defense: Rich Gillette (Red) and Russ Little (White), Most Valuable Player: Kevin Evans (Red) and John Fournier (White). The oldest US players were John Sanzo and Merle Bunde (both 78) and John Stote Sr. won the Coaching Award for the first US coach to win in the Classic.