It was fun to see our American players developing into a "team" during the week. It reminded me of the freshmen players who come to play baseball at Butler. When they arrive on campus, they don't really know anybody. After a couple days of playing catch and taking swings at the field, they become good friends. Our team on the Dominican trip developed a good sense of camaraderie.
Besides our normal breakfast of scrambled eggs and cereal at the hotel, we also had fresh grown pineapple, mango and papaya today. We took our bus down the highway, west of Boca Chica, to a place called the Juan Dolio beach. This was a beautiful beach near some luxury condos. We were told that some of the famous Dominican Major League players had their off-season beach houses in this area. Our players swam in the ocean, played beach volleyball and just relaxed in the sun. This was truly a beautiful spot.
All of us thought the drivers on the roads in the Dominican Republic were crazy and wild! We never saw an accident, but saw plenty of near misses. There are many, many motorcyles on the streets. These are used as taxis by the local people. If you want to get somewhere, you hail a man on a motorcycle and he takes you to your destination for a few pesos. On the highways, people just point their vehicles in the same direction and go! It seemed throughout the trip that our bus was either going 60mph, zooming by people on motorcyles or going 10mph as our driver hit the brakes to avoid vehicles and pedestrians.
In the afternoon we played against some local players at a field that was a step up from the "sugar can field" but not as nice as the city ballpark in Boca Chica. Our players had to lead a horse off the field when we arrived so that they could play catch… not something you see in the U.S. every day! The pitcher's mound wasn't really a mound- it was more like a small bump. The pitching rubber was a moveable block of wood. Lots of little kids from the area came over to watch the game from near our dugout. No matter what team we played against on the trip, it always seemed like the Dominicans had a very good shortstop and some very good pitchers. These guys were athletic with strong throwing arms and fluid actions on the field.
I walked with Sam this morning over to the Dominican Bay Resort, just a few city blocks from our hotel. This resort would be where our Butler team would stay if we make a vacation trip. Ideally, I'd like to bring our Butler players over during Thanksgiving break to play against the Dominican Major League Academy teams. The guys on these academy teams are all professional players, so it would be great competition. Brigham Young University, Dallas Baptist University and Franklin Pierce University have brought their teams on similar trips during the past few years. I think it would be a fantastic experience for our Butler players. The baseball games would be fun, but even more important would be the opportunity to see a new part of the world and a different culture. I think our guys would be very appreciative of what they have in the U.S. when they look at how people live in the Dominican Republic.
On the walk back to the hotel, Sam and I stopped at the city field in Boca Chica. Even though it was early in the morning, there were plenty of young players at the field, fielding ground balls, swinging bats and playing catch. I think these Dominican kids would play 24 hours a day if they could. In the afternoon, we got on the bus and drove to San Pedro. Amazingly, at one time during the season last year, there were six shortstops starting in the Major Leagues who came from San Pedro! Former player Sammy Sosa grew up in San Pedro and played at the old ballpark we used for our game today. Just across the street from the field was a prison. I donated another bag of used baseball equipment to the visiting team's manager after the game. Many of our players had brought used gear as well and we are confident that the Dominican players will put it to good use.
I got to spend a very enjoyable morning with Jeff and his dad at the Kansas City Royals Academy. Jeff spends quite a bit of time at the Academy, helping the Royals coaches and instructors. He speaks Spanish, as does Sam. After a pancake breakfast at the Academy, I was allowed to walk around the complex and view the players going through their drills. I wrote down a lot of notes on things I liked about their training. I'll hope to use some of the things I picked up back at Butler. The Royals players get up in the morning and report to the practice fields after breakfast to go through stretching, drills and conditioning. They work with positional coaches and take a full batting practice.
After a short break, they play a regulation nine-inning game against another Academy team. On this morning, they played the St. Louis Cardinals team. After the game, the players get lunch and take English classes. They also work with a strength coach in the weight room.
My flight left Santo Domingo at 2:30 p.m. Due to weather delays in Atlanta, I didn't arrive back in Indy until after 2 in the morning! Thankfully, my wife Lisa was able to wake up and pick me up at the airport. It was great to see Lisa and my two daughters, Hannah and Sarah.
I also realized how much I enjoyed my trip to the Dominican and what I had learned about another country and its culture. I am very thankful to Sam LeBeau for giving me this wonderful opportunity. It was great to work with Jeff and his Dominican counterpart "Arnold". It was a pleasure to work with the U.S. players and I enjoyed talking with the parents who also made the trip. I will hope to be able to raise the funds necessary to take my Butler Bulldog team on this trip sometime in the near future!