Andrew Duffy

Ottawa Citizen, Sep 10, 2020  •  Final Up to date 12 hours in the past

From his basement woodworking store within the Ottawa Valley, former automotive salesman Invoice Ryan, 66, is popping out finely-crafted maple bats for Cuba’s beleaguered baseball leagues. Photograph by Jean Levac /Postmedia

A retired Ottawa Valley automotive salesman is popping out a whole bunch of hand-made maple bats yearly for Cuban baseball gamers as a part of a decade-long effort to help the impoverished island nation.

Invoice Ryan, 66, spends 10 or 11 hours day-after-day in his basement woodworking store, making his now well-known “Cubacan” bats.

This yr, he desires to ship 600 bats — they every value about $50 — to Cuba, which is about to start out its nationwide baseball collection. Skilled high quality bats are tough to search out and prohibitively costly in Cuba, which stays the topic of a strict U.S. commerce embargo.

“The one approach I can do that is to do all the steps myself,” says Ryan, who lives on a rural aspect street south of Carleton Place, close to Franktown.

He makes use of his personal sawmill to chop the oblong “blanks” from which he crafts a baseball bat. The blanks — rectangular blocks 36 inches lengthy and three inches extensive — are kiln-dried for 3 months to cut back their moisture content material and weight.

Every bat requires about two hours of labour. Ryan makes use of a lathe to form the bat, then sands it three other ways earlier than making use of two coats of paint, decals and two coats of varnish.

A cautious report keeper, Ryan has made 2,967 bats since he launched his “pastime” a decade in the past. Nearly all of his bats at the moment are in Cuba.

“After I made the primary bat, there was no intention of constructing the second or the third: It simply type of constructed,” he says.

Like most Canadians, Ryan’s first publicity to Cuba got here as a sun-seeking vacationer.  A deeper involvement within the nation began innocently sufficient when he determined to vogue just a few bats as presents for Cuban pals. A lifelong woodworker, Ryan made trophy bats that have been extra a ornament than a bit of baseball tools.

In baseball-mad Cuba, nonetheless, the bats attracted consideration and he was requested to make extra, together with bats that may very well be utilized in video games. The maple bats rapidly grew in reputation amongst Cuban gamers.

He was additionally requested to make bats as presents for every of the Cuban 5 — 5 intelligence officers who have been arrested by U.S. authorities in September 1988. “Los Cincos” spent greater than a decade in U.S. prisons after being convicted of spying. Cuba maintained they have been in South Florida to observe extremist exiles concerned in a wave of terrorist bombings in Havana.

The entire males have been launched by 2014 and welcomed residence as heroes in Cuba. Ryan met and befriended one in all them, Gerardo Hernandez, and collectively they launched a grassroots group, Cubacan, devoted to bettering the lives of peculiar Cubans.

Cubacan has shipped tools and supplies to enhance bat making in Cuba. Final yr, the group delivered greater than two tonnes of sports activities tools to the island.

This yr, Ryan desires to ship 600 hand-crafted bats to the 16 groups competing in Cuba’s nationwide baseball collection, a key stepping stone to the Olympic Video games for the nation’s greatest gamers. The collection begins subsequent week.

Cuba is struggling to equip its baseball groups due to financial sanctions and new restrictions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. Through the previous 4 years, Trump has reversed the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations orchestrated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and tightened the sanctions which have stifled the Cuban financial system for 60 years.

Ryan says U.S. efforts to break Cuba even reached into the Ottawa Valley. Earlier this yr, he says, below stress from the U.S. Treasury Division, GoFundMe closed his fundraising account which had been created to ship sports activities tools to Cuba from Canada.  The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) is now leading the fundraising effort to lift $30,000 to ship the Cubacan bats to Cuba.

Ryan nonetheless travels to Cuba every year along with his spouse, Nora. It’s “extremely satisfying,” he says, to look at a baseball participant hit a house run with one in all his bats, however seeing one break nonetheless makes him shudder.

Two years in the past, Ryan acquired the Cuban government’s Friendship Medal, which has gone to folks equivalent to singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover.

“Multiple million Canadians go to Cuba yearly,” he says, “so we’re making an attempt to counsel to a few of these folks to ship a bat, supply a donation, give one thing again.”