Blessings from Cuba: A Life-Changing Experience
By: Anais Salinas ’18 (Guest Writer)
This summer I had the most amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the first ever travel softball team to play in Havana, Cuba.
During the week of July 23- 28 I participated in the Multi-Cultural and Exhibition Tournament called Copa Amistad in Havana, Cuba. I was most excited to go to Cuba to play the sport that I love in a country that was once forbidden to enter, and that not many people can travel to now.
I was also really excited to experience a different culture, meet new amazing people, and represent both my Notre Dame and Firecracker Softball community.
I am fluent in Spanish so that really helped me communicate and create more tight-knit friendships with all of the girls and coaches on the Cuban teams. I was also one of the “team translators”, so I really practiced my Spanish on this trip.
In this tournament I had the honor to play against the Cuban National Softball Team, which will be the softball team that will play in the 2020 olympics, and the Cuban Junior National Team.
What made this experience even more unique was that every girl on my team came from different Firecracker teams across the country. The first time we all met each other was when we had our first and only practice the day before we left for Cuba. However we all entered Cuba as strangers and left as a family. We played as if we had known each other for years and another thing that helped us to actually get to know each other was that there was no cell phone service or wifi so we actually talked to each other!
One thing that surprised me the most about Cuba was how poor the country was, yet how positive and kind the Cuban people were.
I remember the first day we arrived at the fields I was just so shocked at the conditions that they were living and playing in. As I looked at all of the Cuban players I saw them playing in soccer cleats and converse; they all shared 2 bats, and they were playing in shorts because they did not have access to any softball equipment for themselves.
All of a sudden I had this feeling of appreciation for all of the many blessings and opportunities that God and my family have provided for me.
The first day we played against the Junior National Team and we beat them 8-1. However we played our second game of the day against the Cuban Olympic team and we put up a pretty good fight but they did end up beating us.
The next day we combined teams by having half of our players go to the National team and half of the national team come play with the Firecracker team. We then played games against each other with these teams and at this time I started to get to know all of the Cuban players.
One of the players I became really good friends with was Tatiana Lorenzo; she was the 1st baseman. That same day as we were about to leave the fields Tatiana told me she had a gift for me, and she gave me two of her jerseys–one of them was signed.
On the last day everybody was very sad to have played our last game, however it was a very bittersweet moment. We finished the last game and everybody on the Firecracker team started donating almost all of their equipment to the Cuban players.
I gave away my bat, my batting gloves, a hat, and a pair of softball gloves to Tatiana. At first she didn’t want to accept the gifts, but after telling her that she had to, she just laughed and, almost in tears, looked at me and said that she never thought she would have a bat for herself.
This honestly almost made me cry because Tatiana is 26 years old and has never had a bat and I am a 17 year old girl that has had her fair share of bats. She then asked me to sign everything that I gave her so she could always remember me, and this just made me feel so appreciative of everything that has ever been given to me as well as everything that I have.
Tatiana and I still keep in touch through Instagram and email.
That same day we had the opportunity to practice with the Cuban National coaches and they gave me some amazing feedback. All in all, Cuba was definitely an experience that I will always keep close to my heart and I will never forget (especially getting to drive in the classic cars).
Anais Salinas is a senior on our softball team. We thank her for sharing her experiences with our community.