Lakers prepare for once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuba

GVL Archive
Baseball head coach Steve Lyon.

GVL Archives

GVL Archive Baseball head coach Steve Lyon.

Jon Van Zytveld

When Grand Valley State University baseball head coach Steve Lyon traveled to Cuba last November, he knew that it would be the perfect place for his team to experience a culture that shares the common passion of baseball.

While the trip, which would bring the entire GVSU team to Cuba for a week, had been in the works for almost a year, Lyon’s experiences in the Cuban capital city of Havana with the Grand Rapids-based charity First Hand Aid solidified his resolve.

“Baseball is, by far, the No. 1 sport in the country,” Lyon said. “You go there and you can see it being played in the streets. It’s played in every little patch of grass that they call a park and with a level of enthusiasm and energy that is just amazing.”

Because of the long-felt tension between the U.S. and Cuba, the process of getting approval on the trip took more than two years, and involved campaigning by both the university and elected officials. GVSU only recently received the final approval for trip, which is scheduled to run Jan. 3 through Jan. 9.

“It’s been quite an ordeal,” said GVSU athletic director Tim Selgo, who was heavily involved in the process. “We were forewarned that it would take a long time to jump through all the hoops for the Cuban government, but we were a little more surprised that it took our government even longer.”

Now that the project has been given a green light, Lyon, Selgo and the university are planning the bus ride to Toronto, Canada, and the subsequent flight to Havana, Cuba, as well as the housing accommodations for the trip.

However, the trip has a certain level of responsibility that must be met, and each student is required to attend four seminars that cover everything from travel to language.

In addition, the team must begin training in order to be prepared for the friendly competition that they will take part in while in Cuba.

“During the off season, we’re typically working hard with conditioning, getting stronger and quicker,” Lyon said. “This year, we have to be ready to play games in the first week of January, as opposed to the first week of March. The calendar that we’ve gotten used to in my 14 years here has changed.”

While culturally, athletically and educationally beneficial to the Lakers, the trip will also give the team a chance to test their strengths before their spring season.

“We’re going to be ready to play and get a few games under our belt early,” Lyon said. “I think we’ll find out a few things out about our team while we’re down there competing.”

For senior Ryan Garman, the best part of the trip will be the community outreach and humanitarian aid programs that the team will take part in.

“I know we’re traveling there to play baseball, but it’s just great to be able to go to Cuba and provide medicine, food, and used gloves and jerseys that we take for granted here while they’re playing with a ball of rolled up tape” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait.”

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