Cubacan began as a friendship between a Cuban, Gerardo Hernández and a Canadian, Bill Ryan. The friendship evolved simply as a desire to do something nice, for some nice people. This led to the creation of hundreds of gifts sent to supporters throughout the world, including baseball bats.
From his maximum-security prison cell in the United States, Gerardo designed a variety of gifts. Bill’s job was to make his designs come to life.
Since Gerardo’s liberation from a US prison on December 17, 2014 their work has continued.
Cubacan’s history, as presented by Bill Ryan.
For me, Cubacan had a very simple beginning. Following our first introduction to the Cuban Five we decided to do something for their families. People who had stood by them for so many years. We simply wanted to do something nice for some nice people. As it turned out, the something nice was a baseball bat for each of the families.
This led to a friendship between two unlikely people. A Canadian car salesman/handyman and a Cuban Agent/Humorist serving two life sentences in a US prison.
A brief visit with Gerardo’s wife Adriana, and a very brief telephone conversation between us was followed by several letters. After many offers to help, Gerardo finally was convinced to ask for something. Coincidentally again it was a baseball bat, this time for his beloved Havana Industriales who had just won the Cuban National Series. Before I had finished the first order it was doubled. He asked for a second bat for his favorite player, Pedro Medina. The ice was official broken and a partnership was formed. We didn’t know it then but Cubacan was created.
From my perspective this partnership has one very simple purpose, “doing something nice for some very nice people”.
How we were to do this evolved over many months and through many letters. Keep in mind that our process was simple. Gerardo would come up with an idea, I would make it and deliver it and of course he would get all the glory, exactly as it should be.
Seriously, his ability to picture these projects in his mind and convey that idea to me on paper made my job much easier. After a little bit of back and forth, we would present our works to the ultimate authority, our Quality Control Manager, my wife, Nora who would approve our designs.
While he has designed a number of different items, the bats are his favorite. We have honored a number of individuals as well as the teams winning the National Series for the past six years.
In early 2012 Gerardo commented that people who had seen the bats were impressed with the quality. He asked me if they could be used in an actual game. I didn’t know at the time but he was already arranging to allow them to be used in the National Series. Next step was to learn how to make a competitive bat, rather than a pretty bat.
Gerardo worked with his contacts to get the technical specifications. I contacted a local bat manufacturer, who help me with the finer points of bat making.The result was the first shipment of bats being placed in a container on September 1st, 2012. Due to circumstances way beyond our control, the bats didn’t reach the team until late November.
Of course we have had some growing pains and some adjustments to make. But the players were happy with the end result.
In the process of getting into the bat “business” we needed a couple of things. One was a name and the other a logo. There is some dispute between Gerardo and me as to who came up with the name. He is claiming that the name came to him the day he received a letter from me which contained a number of suggestions including “Cubacan”. He swears that he thought of the name before he opened the mail. Of course, he is the “Boss” so who can argue.
The logo is a different story. It is entirely his creation. He combined both a Canada (upper part) and Cuban (lower part) theme. What people see in the logo depends on where they are from. A
Canadian will see the maple leaf, whereas when we show it to a Cuban, they see a map of Cuba. My contribution to the logo design consists of a strategically placed dot below Cuba and just east (right) of the Isle of Youth. In reality this ‘dot’ represents the small tourist island of Cayo Largo, where Nora and I befriended many of our closest friends.
So now we had a bat, a logo and a name. Next job was to get the bats to Cuba. After the first shipment, we started recruiting couriers. Our first “Official Cubacan Courier” was a good friend of Gerardo’s. Heather Laurie, visited Cuba in November and volunteered to carry a couple of bats to the team. We have had several other travelers act as couriers as well. Our greatest support comes from the people at the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa.
In December 2014, we made our annual trip to Cuba. Included in our baggage were 8 more bats for the Industriales. We were able to see one of the games and were rewarded with a grand slam home run off one of our bats. It was delivered by the third baseman Rudy Reyes while
Gerardo was on the phone talking to Adriana. Only Gerardo would know the exact moment to call so that he could share in such a historic occasion.
While speaking to Lazaro Vargas, the team Manager, he asked if we could make the bats be more visible. Gerardo was hesitant to make the logo too dominant so he added two bands of barbed wire. Of course this not only makes the bats more visible, it also symbolizes where the idea originated.
While baseball will remain a key part of Cubacan, it is only the beginning. We’ve completed a fundraising campaign for La Colmenita an Internationally known children’s group who visited Canada. We replaced some money that was stolen while they toured Canada.
Our bat design has evolved over the years. Our main design for game bats includes the following decal.
Since his return home on December 17, 2014 Gerardo has been busy adjusting to a new life of freedom which includes the arrival of a baby daughter, Gema, on January 6, 2015. Despite all the demands on his time Cubacan remains an important part of his life.
For Nora and me there has only been a few chapters written in the “Cubacan” book and we’ve been lucky to be part of it. More importantly we are looking forward to hopefully many more chapters the have yet to be written.
Bill y Nora