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Rob Cooper Talks About Educational, Life Experiences Trip To Cuba Offers

Penn State baseball prepares to make history with its upcoming trip to Cuba over Thanksgiving break. The team’s journey will mark the first time a Division I team has played a Cuban National Series team, and will be the first time any team hailing from the United States faces off against multiple Cuban National Series teams.

Head Coach Rob Cooper held a press conference on Tuesday at Medlar Field to discuss the upcoming trip, and its significance to the players and the university.

“The opportunity to travel to Cuba and experience their culture and learn their history through the vehicle of baseball is something we’re really excited about,” Cooper said. Keep in mind that Cooper’s team isn’t the first Penn State athletic team to play on Cuban soil, as Russ Rose traveled to the Caribbean nation with the women’s volleyball team in March of 2000. Given importance of baseball in Cuba, this trip is equally as significant to the nation as it is to Cooper’s team.

The team has four games against three Cuban National Series’ teams scheduled. The first two are against Industriales, a team referred to by many as the Cuban equivalent of the New York Yankees. The remaining two games are against Pinar del Rio and Matanzas, both of the Cuban National Series along with Industriales.

Along with the baseball aspect, Coach Cooper emphasized the importance of the educational opportunities the trip will offer. “It’s another example of the unbelievable educational opportunities Penn State provides for our student athletes,” Cooper said.

Aside from competing in exhibition games, the team will also attend lectures given by the Cuban Federation of Baseball, visit historic sites, attend cultural events, and experience Cuban life outside of Havana.

“The people that are helping us, the Marti Center, Dr. Nichols, and the rest of the people that have done this before are saying that the itinerary we’re getting is something they’ve never seen before, and they’re very excited,” Cooper said.

Cooper heavily emphasized the life lessons which will be learned on the trip, coinciding with the educational and cultural benefits players will be exposed to. Traveling to Cuba can be stressful given the relative uncertainty surrounding the country and its culture, but Cooper believes his players will become better as a result, both as players and as young men.

“Being able to get outside that comfort zone, being able to see what other people live with on a daily basis, that translates into life.” Cooper explained. “[The students] can look back on [these experiences] and think, ‘We’re at one of the best universities in the world, getting an unbelievable education, getting a chance to play baseball, getting a chance to chase our dreams.'”

The players echoed Cooper’s views on the educational and life experiences the trip offers. Pitcher Tim Scholly is as eager as anybody to venture to a foreign land, realizing what incredible opportunities await. “To get down there and learn about the culture and traditions and everything that goes on on a daily basis in their lives, it’s something I’m definitely looking forward to.”

The week-long trip to Cuba is exceptionally special considering the recent restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, and that fact is not getting lost among the staff. “At this point in history, where Cuba is, where we are, what we’re trying to get to, we’re going at a really unique time,” Cooper said.

For the players, the trip should prove to be beneficial not only on the diamond, but in life. These young men have a unique opportunity, and it sounds like they’re prepared to make the most of it.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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