UT Baseball Cultural Exchange - WFLA News Channel 8

UT Baseball Cultural Exchange

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

When their plane touched down at Tampa International Airport Sunday afternoon, the University of Tampa baseball team had completed the trip of a lifetime. Only a handful of college baseball teams had ever played in Cuba and the Spartans are believed to be the only one from Florida to do so.

UT traveled to the island nation on a cultural literacy and international education license through the organization "People To People". The team spent eight days in Cuba, soaking in the culture, while playing a three game baseball series against some teams stacked with Cuban professionals.

Besides the baseball, Spartans head coach Joe Urso said seeing the Cuban way of life was an eye-opening experience.

"We donated so many things to the kids over there and it made us all feel really good", said Urso. "And to watch my players taking their shirts off and their shoes and their gloves and giving them to these kids that don't have much. I was excited for the opportunity".

As defending Division 2 national champions, the Spartans are used to success on the college diamond. One thing they noticed was the faster, flashier style of play of the three Cuban teams they faced. However, UT did go 3-0 on the trip.

"The baseball was excellent", said shortstop Giovanny Alfonso. "They play with so much passion and heart, it's hard not to learn from them. Because they play every out with so much enthusiasm and you take a lot from just watching them play".

A trip of this magnitude had a lot of moving parts come together at the same time to make it happen. For starters, it was two years in the making. Approvals took several months and there were plenty of discussions with the Cuban interior ministry and sports commission officials. Then there was the financial component.

It cost the 50-member UT travel delegation about $2,500-$3,200 per person, which was paid by the university, students, parents and private donations. There were also a group of UT students who were in Cuba on a 10-day study visit as part of a government and world affairs honors class. With U.S. and Cuba relations strained at best, any trip carries political implications, but the players never had any problems.

"Cuba was unbelievable. It's kind of an experience that you can't describe to somebody who hasn't been there before", said INF/DH Quinn Griffin. But the people were great, wherever you went, everybody welcomed you, greeted you and there was never any feeling of animosity of anything at all towards the American people".

"It was awesome. We got to experience the culture, the people, the food, the music", Alfonso said. "It was just an amazing trip and I definitely want to go back again. I didn't want to leave, it was that good of a trip".


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