Spring baseball started early for me this year. After a succession of coincidences our family found itself watching from the “sidelines” while a number of teenage Dominican Republic baseball players held their practice. It was not fancy.
The baseball diamond was regulation only in its dimensions. The clay, dirt infield was bumpy and uneven, the bags were in tatters, the outfield had grass a metre high and the fences consisted of old wire borrowed from a construction site. On the other side of the fence was the only roadway leading into the small town of Las Galeras. The batting cage was set in the woods and defined by old fishnets. Batting practice consisted of a player repeatedly hitting a large truck tire that two of his teammates propped up for him. The hardballs were soft from constant use and were covered in the red clay. There were only 20 in the bag.
The players’ equipment was in a similar state of disrepair. Baseball gloves were held together with shoelaces as the leather straps had broken; baseball cleats were clearly hand-me-downs. Surprisingly, everyone seemed to have their favourite team’s baseball cap – no Blue Jay caps to be seen!
For over three hours each day this group practised under the watchful eye and guidance of their two coaches. At the end of the practice one of the coaches, in his broken English, asked if our two sons and I would be interested in playing in a nine inning pick up game with this group the next day. We jumped at the opportunity.
What an afternoon! Our oldest son reached base and scored twice, though I can’t say that either our youngest son or I had such success. But that is not what I took away from the adventure. What a lesson in baseball – watching them play was magical: from soft hands and lightning throws, to homeruns that bounced off the highway into the woods to be retrieved by the rookies, to the constant laughter and banter that eclipsed every play.
And while they had very little, they had everything. It wasn’t about the best facility or equipment or the latest clothing – it was about the game – a game that they truly loved. And with that passion came dedication and a commitment to do your best. Perhaps that is why the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers had already drafted three of the players.
As we enter into a new term, let’s remember why we play our team sports and the joy that it can bring.