Best Pick-up Game Ever

Before Professor Bruce Jentleson found his passion for foreign policy, he had a passion for baseball. He played for his high school team and is still a devoted amateur league softball player. Since coming to Sanford in 2000, he has played on two local teams, one in Durham and one in Chapel Hill. He even made contact with a team in Boston that plays friendship games abroad, but the schedules never seemed to work out.                                                               

Last fall, Jentleson was invited to travel to Cuba as the professor-in-residence on a trip for alumni organized by the Duke Alumni Association. The theme of the trip was Art and Architecture, but Beth Ray-Schroeder, alumni education director, asked him to provide context for the travelers by giving two foreign policy lectures: one on the history of U.S.-Cuba relations and one on current policy. Jentleson, who speaks Spanish, had a few foreign policy contacts in Cuba he wanted to meet, so he agreed to go.

“Cuba is a country that is as crazy about baseball as the United States,” he said. At the Durham Bulls gift shop, he found gifts to take, including a few baseballs.

One morning, just after breakfast, Jentleson spotted a guy wearing a baseball jersey in the hotel lobby. It was Michael Eizenberg, the organizer of the Boston softball team. It was the last day of their stay and they were going to play a double-header against the Cuban team.

“He asked if I wanted to play,” said Jentleson. Of course, he said yes, so he borrowed equipment and took to the field. “The Cuban team had a lot of great players, including some guys who, based on their  younger days, were in the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. I batted first and got two hits and made no errors,” he said.

During the game, Jentleson noticed a kid sitting on a bench, mending the stitches on a tattered baseball. After chatting for a bit with the boy, Jentleson pulled out one of the Durham Bulls souvenir balls and gave it to him. The boy was so thrilled with such a beautiful ball that he intended to keep it on a shelf at home, but Jentleson persuaded him it would be better to use it to play.

The Boston team lost the games, but “that mattered less for me than any other games I’ve ever played, the experience was so great,” Jentleson said. During the rest of the trip he gave the rest of his souvenirs to other Cuban kids. He is still is touch with the Boston team and hopes to travel abroad with them as an official team member in the future.