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Cuban professor visits SUNY Cortland

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cuban professor Felix Julio gives a presentation Thursday on the economics of Havana at SUNY Cortland’s Sperry Hall.

A planned partnership between SUNY Cortland and universities in Cuba took a step forward as visiting professor Felix Julio Alfonso Lopez, a professor and dean at San Geronimo University in Havana, helped teach two courses and gave a presentation on campus recently.

It was an important opportunity because of the political climate in which travel to and from Cuba is restricted, said Jordan Kobritz, chairman of the Sports Management Department who played host to Lopez. Korbritz said he does not know when or if other faculty from Cuba would be allowed to visit campus. SUNY Cortland professors hope to lead students on educational trips to Cuba in 2018, and also share professors between universities.

In June, a delegation of SUNY Cortland officials visited Cuba, meeting with officials from three universities in Cuba, including San Geronimo University, where Kobritz and Lopez were introduced.

The idea for a partnership stemmed from an April 2016 symposium Kobritz organized at SUNY Cortland on U.S.-Cuba relations, sponsored by the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, a consortium of baseball executives that hopes to bridge relations between the two nations. Kobritz said having Lopez visit was also exciting on a personal level.

“He and I bonded the first time we met over, mostly baseball, but we’re both professors and we’ve actually been talking about this for a year,” Kobritz said. “We both believe in the impact of baseball on society.”

The two visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown last week and saw displays that showed how influential baseball was on society and culture in the United States from the early 1800s to today.

“And it’s done the same thing in Cuba, Cubans love their baseball as much if not more than we do,” Kobritz said.

Baseball is the national sport of both countries, making its shared experiences a powerful tool, Lopez said via email. The two countries have also exchanged teams and players.

“The Cuban culture cannot be explained nor be understood without baseball because this is the sport that symbolized, during the 20th century, the hopes and dreams of the Cuban people for freedom and independence from Spain,” Lopez wrote.

Baseball became closely linked with Cuban music and literature, much like it has in America.

Kobritz said baseball is a sport unlike any other in America, because of its history dating back 200 years.

“It was part of the fabric of society, people looked at baseball as important in their lives,” Kobritz said. “When you got through work, the family gathered around on a Sunday and played a game of ball.”

“And I don’t think any sport, at least in this country, has had a similar effect,” he said.

It was Lopez’s first visit to SUNY Cortland and second trip to America. He found SUNY Cortland welcoming.

“It offers the potential of opening a very promising future for a lasting and strong academic collaboration that goes beyond the current political differences between the U.S. and Cuban governments,” Lopez wrote.

Upon returning to Cuba, Lopez said he would share the success of the collaboration.

“I believe the most important aspects of this visit are to build friendships and bridges of understanding between our countries, to find common research fields; and to set up more ambitious goals for the future,” Lopez wrote. “If baseball can contribute to such goals, then we will be doubly rewarded.”

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