Penn State to be first U.S. team to play Cuban National Series teams

October 22, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State baseball team’s trip to Cuba in November could be even more historic than initially anticipated, as the Nittany Lions are now slated to become the first United States team -- amateur or professional -- to compete against teams from the Cuban National Series, Cuba’s premier baseball league. Penn State is scheduled to play four games, including two in Havana against Industriales, widely considered the New York Yankees of Cuban baseball.

In addition to the four baseball games, Penn State student-athletes will take part in multiple lectures and cultural experiences arranged by Penn State’s partner institution in Cuba, the Center for Marti Studies in Havana. Penn State head coach Rob Cooper and strength and conditioning coach Jamie Burleson have been invited to participate in the seventh annual International Convention of Physical Activity and Sport (AFIDE), which will be taking place simultaneously.

“At this pivotal moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, our Penn State student-athletes will have the rare opportunity -- through competition, player-to-player engagement, and educational programming -- to experience first-hand the Cuban people’s passion for their national sport and learn about the history and culture of the country that produced some of the best baseball players in the world,” said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper.

The Nittany Lions will depart State College for Havana Saturday, Nov. 21, and are scheduled to play their first game against Industriales Sunday at 2 p.m. in Estadio Latinoamericano, a historic 55,000-seat facility built in 1946. The two teams are slated to meet again Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 10 a.m.

Penn State will then travel roughly 100 miles west of Havana to face Pinar del Río Friday, Nov. 27, at 2 p.m. in Estadio Capitán San Luis, an 8,000-seat stadium. The trip will conclude approximately 65 miles east of Havana against Matanzas Saturday, Nov. 28, with an 11 a.m. game in Victoria de Girón Stadium, a 30,000-seat venue.

In addition to the unprecedented matchups, Penn State is believed to be the first NCAA school to send two different teams to Cuba in the post-revolutionary era, as the Penn State volleyball team was the first Division I team to compete there in March 2000, taking on various national squads.

Penn State baseball will be one of the few NCAA teams to compete in post-revolutionary Cuba.

The Johns Hopkins baseball team is believed to be the first NCAA team to compete in the post-revolutionary era in 1986, and St. Thomas (Minn.) then challenged the University of Havana in Cuba in January 2000. Division I baseball programs to visit Cuba include Washington (December 2000), Tennessee (December 2002), Southern California (January 2004) and Alabama (December 2008). Division II Grand Valley State baseball (January 2012) and University of Tampa baseball (January 2014) were the most recent NCAA teams to compete in Cuba.

The Princeton track and field team (June 2015) and Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team (August 2015) were the most recent NCAA teams to travel to Cuba.

U.S. schools previously competing in Cuba have typically faced teams in the Cuban national program or developmental leagues.

Despite playing on their first full day in Cuba, the educational slate will begin before the Nittany Lions take the field. The team will meet with representatives of the Cuban Federation of Baseball Sunday morning and learn about Cuba’s system of development for baseball.

Throughout the week, student-athletes will also attend lectures by leading Cuban scholars, visit important historical and cultural sites, attend cultural events, and travel in the countryside and get a glimpse of real Cuban life outside the tourist centers of Havana. Thanksgiving Day will feature a lesson on the history of sport in Cuba with special guest Yosvany Aragón, a former star on the Cuban national baseball team.

The trip will afford educational opportunities beyond the student-athletes on the team. Eight undergraduate students from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State will cover the trip providing content for media outlets across the state as part of a partnership with the Pennsylvania News Media Association. The Curley Center students focus on storytelling through broadcast, multimedia and print journalism options.

The Nittany Lions will return to State College Sunday, Nov. 29.

Last Updated October 22, 2015