The St. Lucie Mets Select 14 and under team is heading to Havana in August for the Summer Baseball Friendship Cup.
Residents wishing to help send them on their way will have a chance on Thursday, May 17. The Tin Roof Bar and Grill in Fort Pierce is hosting a four-part bingo game with cash prizes to raise money for the baseball players.
“The whole idea of the program is to develop the kids and get them ready for college,” said Ron LeMond, director of the St. Lucie Mets Select program.
The Cuba trip, he said, furthers that mission. “For life experience,” he said. “For them to be able to go there. How many people get the chance to go to Cuba?”
The team manager, Charlie Boden, has professional contacts with major league players, including a former World Series pitcher.
“Out of the blue, a former major league player, Mark Littell, contacted me,” Boden said. “He called me up and said, ‘Charlie, I see you have a baseball team.’”
Boden affirmed that he did manage a youth team. “He said, ‘I have an opportunity for you,’” Boden said.
Then he told him about the friendship cup series. Boden said he was immediately sold. “This is an opportunity for a life lesson in my eye,” Boden said.
The team has to raise about $25,000 to go.
The cup tourney will be from Aug. 10-13. In addition to getting to meet baseball players from another country, the players will hear from Littell. The games will be at the indoor Coliseo de la Ciudad Deportiva.
“On top of baseball, every day we have an excursion set up for the boys to learn about the Cuban culture,” Boden said.
The players will tour Old Havana’s Colonial Plazas and Obispo Street and visit the famed Almacenes San Jose market, along with a private baseball museum, among other things.
Baseball has a long and storied history in Cuba. It’s one of the most popular sports on the island nation south of Florida. Brothers Nemesio and Ernesto Guillot founded the first Cuban baseball team in the 1860s after learning the game while attending college in the United States.
Baseball gained popularity so quickly that Spanish authorities tried banning it for fear that the American game would replace Spanish sports. Cubans defiantly continued to play baseball and formed a league in the 1870s. By the turn of the 20th century, the All Cubans team started playing tours in the United States. The game became so deeply entrenched that after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the communist government that rejected cultural influences from the United States upheld baseball’s venerated place in Cuba. “Baseball is a big deal over there,” LeMond said.
After the U.S. and Cuba started reestablishing diplomatic relations a few years ago, one of the first demonstrations of the relationship was exhibition baseball games.
The St. Lucie Mets Select program is just that – select. Players have to do tryouts to earn a spot. “Every player has to make a team,” LeMond said. “We don’t let them just play.”
There are three select teams – 10U, 11U and 14U. Additionally, there is a scout team for high school players. LeMond said players not only have to prove themselves on the field, they have to meet other high standards, such as maintaining a 3.0 GPA at school. “It’s really trying to prepare them for life after baseball,” LeMond said.
In addition to the bingo on May 17, folks can help out the team by getting their cars washed on Saturday, June 9. That fundraiser will be at O’Reilly Auto Parts, 571 NW Prima Vista Blvd., Port St. Lucie. The bingo games will be 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Donors can also give at www.gofundme.com/55kh1bk.
Tin Roof Bar and Grill is at 5701 Orange Ave., in Fort Pierce.