Plans for the 2020 Major League Baseball schedule are uncertain, as are expectations for minor league games — including those slated for the hometown Eugene Emeralds. With this in mind, it’s worth glancing back to a recent spring training season when the Ems made an unusually heartfelt impression on an assortment of young Cuban béisbol fans.
I remember first sharing my personal plans with Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides. I told him I was gearing up for a month-long photojournalism mission in Cuba. Benavides responded with open appreciation for Cuban béisbol culture. Then he shocked me with surprising generosity.
“I hear the stories and I know that Cubans love the game,” Benavides says. “I hear from our Caribbean players how, literally, Cuban kids are out there playing stickball—baseball with sticks and stones. Maybe it’s a small thing, but the kids . . . what if we could give a few baseballs to the kids who would seriously appreciate it? That would be really cool!”
And so, I stuffed my duffel bag full of Ems balls, hats, T-shirts, and jerseys, and I boarded a jet to Havana.
Béisbol is a year-round Cuban passion. I’d wager that if I were to revisit the dusty streets of Centro Habana again today, I’d find dozens of shoeless, shirtless kids fielding baseballs emboldened with Ems logos. And if I rode back out to a particular Soviet-style housing complex in a particular Havana suburb, I’d find a team of gloveless, rag-tag kids garbed in a random assortment of Ems T-shirts. The kids would probably be playing on a weed-choked sandlot. Or if I shuttled a few dozen miles west of Havana to any of several impoverished beach communities . . . .
Well, I’d surely find dozens more Ems logos proudly showcased by barefoot kids with beaming smiles and béisbol hearts.
And then I’d remember that the Eugene Emeralds are a tribute to those hearts.