The bus transporting us from the Embassy Suites in Juan Dolio to some long forgotten baseball stadium in the heart of Santo Domingo is adorned with tattered pink curtains. I stare out the window at the sparkling Caribbean Sea. However, the idyllic scenes are instantaneously shattered. Shacks of concrete block set amidst lots of dirt and neglect fly by in rapid succession.
Despite these scenes, there is an optimistic air on the bus composed of a diverse mixture of players from various levels of the game – high school, college and professional – as well as coaches and baseball aficionado who come together from a myriad of backgrounds, generations and geographical locations.
The ideology behind SCORE's November Outreach in the Dominican Republic is fairly straightforward: gather men who retain a great love for the game of baseball then through baseball share the Word of God. Last November, over 230 American men were divided into six teams, and each team was bussed to various locations around the island to conduct free baseball clinics. I found myself along for the ride with the Blue Team in the bus with pink curtains.
After what feels like an eternity, we pull into a cramped parking lot nestled tightly between a busy city street and the faded blue concrete façade of the back of an ancient stadium. Tenement block buildings with clothes flapping from lines stretched across rooftops, colorfully advertised billboards, green tops of palm trees and a cobweb of electrical lines fill the backdrop and complete the surreal setting.
There are at least 200 young athletes waiting patiently when we arrive; most sit huddled in the one corner of the stands shaded from the blistering tropic sun; but others are already throwing and stretching in left field. Through translators, groups are quickly organized; and before long, the clinic is running like clockwork through various stations around the diamond. I'm struck by the fact that I'm watching an exact replica of the baseball camps I frequented as a child. The one significant difference is that there's no whining. Every player here today truly wants to be here. These kids love baseball, but there's more to it than a simple passion for the game. It's more apparent in the older kids, the teenagers who are on the wrong side of 15, but it's in the younger children as well. For nearly every player who showed up to today's clinic, baseball is his one and only ticket off this island.
Soon the clinic draws to an end; the Dominican players are requested through a megaphone brandished by one of SCORE's full time missionaries to gather in the stands. Every single player does as he is asked, no one leaves early, and a brief testimonial is delivered in English by one of the coaches and echoed in Spanish by the missionary. All politely listen, but it's readily apparent that some are transfixed by the message of hope and eternal salvation.
Gathering back in our bus, there's a new charge of exhausted excitement apparent. A few of the men are understandably quiet as we pull out of the tiny parking lot. Many of the kids have gathered around the windows in hopes of receiving a baseball or a t-shirt or anything else that someone may be willing to part with, but there's not enough to go around and many are left empty handed. They chase the bus down the street, laughing and waving goodbye with charmingly innocent wide toothy grins spread across their faces. One of the coaches turns to me and says quite seriously, "I wish I could just take them all home with me, but at least we get to do it all again tomorrow."