Island players embarking on Cuban baseball journey

Players from Duncan and Campbell River have been added to the original Chemainus group

An Island group of baseball players from the Campbell River area and Duncan have joined the original Chemainus Jays for the 2018 Cuba Journey.

The total number of people travelling this year for the continuation of the great cultural and baseball exchange started through the Chemainus and District Baseball Association has swollen to 91.

There’s 49 within the Chemainus group that now includes a few Duncan players and parents plus another 42 from the Campbell River Canadians coached by Wendell Kierstead, who once lived in Crofton.

The two groups departed Monday, with some spending a week in Cuba and others up to 10 days.

It didn’t take much to convince Duncan’s Doug Cornett to join the Jays for the trip.

“Baseball in Cuba, how can that be a bad thing?” he enthused.

Cornett had two players right in his own household ready and willing to go – Andrew Cornett and Jorden Baker – plus Manny Rathor from Duncan. Tina Baker, Doug Cornett’s wife, is also going to bring the Duncan contingent to five.

When Cornett got the call from Chemainus and District Baseball Association Rick Shay about going along, he said it was a “no-brainer, let’s be honest.

“We’ve got to keep this going. This is the greatest thing of all time – a way to promote baseball.”

RELATED: Campbell River ball club sends players to Cuba

Only two players from the original Jays group that went to Cuba are on this trip – Jesse Shay and Nate Robson.

“Since we started this Cuba Journey in 2015, we’ve probably fundraised well over $100,000,” said Rick Shay.

That includes the costs borne to bring the entire Cuban team from Union de Reyes to the Cowichan Valley last summer. Since the organization attained a two-year Visa, it will be returning in July.

Rob Dyke of Crofton is tabbed as the man who started it all from his first excursion to Cuba in 2006. He’s going again for 17 days and “this will be my sixth time,” he noted.

The Union de Reyes region is much poorer than many Cuban towns because it is not within the normal tourist region. With that in mind, the Cuban trips have included assembling and packing all sorts of donated baseball gear and humanitarian products.

Besides the baseball action on the field where the Cubans have a decided advantage, there’s going to be an extra special feature of the exchange this time that will surely work to the advantage of the Canadians.

“We’re taking hockey gear down for Hockey Night in Cuba,” announced Shay.

“We’ve come to the realization we’re not going to win a baseball game so we’re going to take our national sport with us,” quipped Cornett.

It won’t be in an arena, though, of course, but some outdoor road hockey action in Union de Reyes will determine the winner of the Stanfield Cup.

Dyke said that might be a bit of a tricky exercise because there are many uncovered grates in the streets. They’re taking along loads of road hockey balls to make sure the supply doesn’t run out.

“The sidewalks are nice and high, but these drains will kill us,” he laughed.

Overall, “we’ve got 86 bags of humanitarian (items),” noted Shay.

“Back in the little towns where we’re going, they really do need the humanitarian stuff and they do appreciate it,” added Dyke.

WestJet is waving the fees for packing the bags.

“I really want to thank all the parents and other travelers going on this trip to Cuba for all the hard work, dedication and support we received from them and also thank our two children, Jennifer and Jesse, for all their support and hard work behind the scenes,” said Rick on behalf of himself and wife April.

The Cubans will make the return trip here from July 19 to Aug. 3.

Union de Reyes will play a game in Victoria against the West Coast League’s Victoria Harbour Cats July 30. Half of the tickets sales go to directly to the Chemainus and District Baseball Association which will also receive proceeds from doing the 50/50 draw for that game.

The Harbour Cats are also coming to Chemainus June 11 for a special instructional session for school students.

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