February 7, 2000
Ashley Steele, an eighth-grader at Leota Junior High, is a member of the Galaxy, a baseball team that will represent the U.S. in Cuba.
Photo courtesy of the Steele family.
by Marshall Haley, staff reporter
WOODINVILLE--Leota Jr. High eighth-grader Ashley Steele and his Galaxy baseball team members will represent the United States at a baseball tournament in Cuba from Feb. 19-26.
The Galaxy will be joined by 13-14-year-old teams from the Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast as the first American amateur teams allowed in Cuba since the 1958 revolution. The Baltimore Orioles were the only other American teams of any kind allowed on Cuban soil, when they played an exhibition against a Cuban team last year. The teams will each play 5-6 games in six days.
KOMO-TV sports reporter Eric Johnson will accompany the team and make daily reports on the trip. The goodwill trip, officially chartered by the U.S. State and Treasury departments, will emphasize a cultural exchange experience, including one day of visits to Havana classrooms, said Guy Steele, Ashley's father.
Guy has handled public relations for the team, generating interest from ESPN, Baseball Weekly, and the ABC national network, which plans a 30-to-60-minute documentary on the historic trip. KCPQ-TV, the local Fox affiliate, spent two hours filming a Galaxy workout on Jan. 26, a segment of which will air on Channel 13's sports segment on Feb. 19.
The teams will be greeted by Cuba's President Fidel Castro, a former baseball pitcher who was reportedly drafted by the Dodgers before he chose a military-political career. No one knows whether or not Castro, who was educated in the U.S. and speaks fluent English, will break his habit of using a Spanish translator to speak directly to the boys.
The American contingent will stay in the newly-constructed five-star Commodore Hotel. A total of around 100 people will make the trip, including the teams, their parents, team doctor, media, federal bodyguards, and officials. The American visitors were granted diplomatic immunity.
Cuba assured the State Dept. that the group would suffer no backlash from the Elian Gonzalez crisis. Transports, LLC organized and underwrote the trip.
Steele will be one of two starting pitchers, and is the only Eastside player on a Galaxy team comprised mostly of Mount Vernon and Mukilteo players. The team's head coach is Matt Pettibone of Mukilteo, whose son Ryan plays center field and shortstop.
Steele was picked up by the Galaxy on the recommendation of Matt Hale, who coaches Ashley's Sandy Koufax All-Stars team in the Fall League at Dave Henderson's Ballyard in Bellevue. Steele pitched and played center field last spring for Woodinville East in the Little League Senior Minors league. He also played summer ball for a Bothell Sandy Koufax team.
Last summer, the Galaxy were the only local team to beat (in one of three games) the Woodinville Baseball Club's U-13 team that finished seventh at the CABA World Series.
Steele is being tutored at Hendu's Ballyard by Dan Spillner, the retired 12-year veteran relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.