TAMPA — For the University of Tampa baseball team, a weeklong trip to Cuba was more about cultural exchange than competition on the field of play.
The 2013 NCAA Division II champion UT squad won all three games it played against tough Cuban teams and returned home Sunday at Tampa International Airport to a crowd of cheering family and supporters. UT is one of just a few college baseball teams to make the trip, and perhaps the first from Florida.
Spartans head coach Joe Urso said the trip helped his team bond and prepare for the opening of its season next month. The team donated baseball gear — gloves, balls, shoes and even caps — as a measure of goodwill on an island where equipment shortages are endemic.
"It just made us all feel pretty good," Urso said. "It was a great experience. The people in Cuba were opening their arms to my players. The dialogue between the two groups was really unique."
UT beat Las Habana, a team affiliated with the Industriales Blue Lions, by a 2-1 score on Wednesday; hammered the Artemisa Cazadores (Hunters) 13-5 on Friday; and ended the trip with an 8-6 win over the Mayabeque Huracanes (Hurricanes) on Saturday.
The Cuban teams were composed of players 23 years old and younger in a professional Cuban national league. Not that anybody checked birth certificates.
"They were suppose to be 23 and under," Urso said, "but some of these guys looked like men" in their upper 20s. (read more)