It would have been enough if Chase Fulkerson and his baseball teammates at Dawson School made their unprecedented trip down to Cuba simply to be ambassadors of the great game.
It turned out, though, to be much more of a worthwhile experience for the Mustangs. The far-from-typical spring break trip brought Fulkerson and the team closer than most Americans have ever been to a population that for a long time was closed off to the rest of the world.
The baseball was one thing, and Fulkerson would tell you they saw some budding stars in some instances. The cultural experience, on the other hand, was bolstered by getting out in communities and helping build the spirits of people young and old.
The team was in Cuba from March 27 to April 4, during which time they were able to provide two baseball clinics to kids of varying skill levels. Initially, the group of children they met with were already introduced as potential national team players. That interaction also meant playing ball on more than just a Havana sandlot.
Several days later, the kids they were able to work with had more raw skills and even less of an opportunity to play with genuine baseball equipment.
They had a little more, however, after the visit from the Mustangs as the team was able to collect and distribute over 700 pounds of equipment ranging from batting helmets to catcher's gear.
The simple gesture of handing a kid a baseball with all 216 stitches went a long way for Fulkerson, a junior.
"To be honest, the second (clinic) for me was the most special because the kids weren't the cream of the crop like we had seen the first time," Fulkerson said. "The kids needed to learn some things, and I think the kids just showed a lot more appreciation toward everything.
"I remember this one little kid, going around asking for a hat or whatever, and I went and got him a ball and he just ran off and started playing with it by himself. These kids didn't have hardly anything, and it was something very meaningful, I think."
The team did get to enjoy more typical vacation activities — why not, what with the history and the natural wonder of the island nation? — but more importantly did a couple of service projects outside of their clinics.
One of Fulkerson's most vivid memories came from early in the trip, when the group helped an older man weed his entire field — a 20-hour job reduced to about 45 minutes. The team also took some time to plant some Mangrove tree seeds in an area of coastline that was vital to the ecosystem of the country.
It's safe to say the Mustangs left a good impression on Cubans more than just on the baseball diamond.
"It was amazing to help and a great experience overall," Fulkerson said. "The people were very welcoming and didn't hold any grudges over what our government did to their government. We were treated with respect."