Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We have no itinerary for the days, no agenda, scheduled games or mandatory trips. We rely on a Dominican man named Giovanni that doubles as our translator and middle man to connect us with people in the surrounding villages. He is our human TomTom, social network, and Rosetta Stone. We get on the bus every morning and he tells us he found a team for us to play and an orphanage to visit. This morning Giovanni navigated our bus driver deep into the middle of nowhere through flooded dirt roads at 5 mph. We either hit every single pothole or drove with triangle tires because I almost got a concussion.

After lurching and rocking our way down this road for a while, we came to a clearing. In the distance we saw a concrete slab with a chain-link section of fence coming upward through the wall of concrete. Someone said, "That looks like a backstop for a baseball field." I glanced out of the window then looked back down at my camera to change the batteries thinking there was no shot this could be our destination. As we got closer we could see a pasture overgrown with weeds, then a group of kids gathered off to the left of the chain-link thought to be a backstop. I asked Zeller, "What are they doing with that bucket?" He said, "Lining the field."

"Lining the field"
We had arrived. Five kids in mismatched baseball uniforms held garden hoes, ridding weeds and shrubs from the baselines while another group followed with a bucket of white sand....the foul lines. Rocks the size of golf balls littered the infield, weeds grew over the dirt, and there weren't any bases until a little boy ran around putting sacks down. Mesmerized by all this, we just sat in the bus and gawked through the windows, our jaws dropped like a toddler in a strip club. This marked the last day of my former baseball career.

This was our dugout for the day.
No longer will I complain about field conditions, lack of sufficient equipment, or size and shape of the dugouts. There were no dugouts. Forget dugouts, there wasn't as much as a bench. We put our gear under a shade tree past third base and sat down on the ground to change our spikes. I got up to take a pregame jog around the field and saw a tall, wiry Dominican kid wind up and throw a softball the entire length of the field, foul pole to foul pole to his partner. In America we call this long toss. We usually stand 150-200 feet apart and throw to increase arm strength. These two were at least 350 feet from each other, chucking a softball (bigger & heavier than a baseball) for 45 minutes. I slowed my run to ask him how many times a week he did this. Todos los dias. Every day.

I can tell you right now if I picked up a softball and attempted to do that seven consecutive days I would need Tommy-John surgery and a full rotator cuff repair by the 5th day. I doubted the effectiveness of his long toss program until he took the mound and started pumping 90 mph fastballs by some of our hitters. I wont go into a play-by-play but by the 6th inning we were ahead 8-2. Ninety mph fastballs looked pretty fat once we realized he was never taught how to through a curve ball or change-up. This is why some of these kids get drafted when they're 15 years old. Scouts see raw talent with no direction or quality instruction and send them to professional coaches to develop them. Every MLB team has a baseball academy on the island. If a player is good enough he'll be signed at fifteen and placed in one of the baseball academies, provided with housing, three meals a day, and schooling five days a week. At seventeen, they can obtain a visa and come to America to join the minor league teams for the organization they were selected to.

My first at-bat in 6 months
Silky smooth shortstop
Tomorrow we play the Atlanta Braves Academy. If tomorrow is anything like today I will be humbled by a 16 year old shortstop that can pick a short-hop in a minefield (Translation: field a ground ball smoothly on a very rocky infield).

 After the game we sat near the tree and Zeller shared the gospel to the other team with the assistance of Giovanni's translation. "How many of you believe there is a God?" Every one of them raised their hands. "How many believe in Jesus?" This time they raised their hands and said 'amen' in unison. "How many of you think that because you believe those two things, you will be in heaven when you die?" Everyone raised their hand. Zeller waited for every hand to go up and said, "The devil believes in God and Jesus." Slowly, everyone put their hands down, surprised by the direct statement. But one kid put his hand back up. He said something in Spanish so we waited for Giovanni and he said, "I don't believe in Jesus, I follow Jesus." Zeller responded with, "Amen Picho!! He ran over and gave him a fist pound. Giovanni didn't bother translating that because his name, obviously, was not Picho. Zeller has been referring to everyone that looks remotely Hispanic as Paco or Picho since we got off the plane. He's probably the funniest guy I've ever met, and the spanglish and jokes were all in good fun. Nonetheless, the group soon heard the true message of the Bible. That salvation is not something you say, do, think, or believe. It is a relationship with Christ, a follow-the-leader walk of faith that you are dedicated to day by day. 18 kids dedicated their lives to Jesus on the field today.

Zeller and Giovanni giving them the truth

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