SCORE International was thrilled to host the University of Louisville Baseball team on a recent short-term mission/baseball experience in the Dominican Republic. Dan McDonnell, his staff, players and several parents provided food to sugar cane villages, supported and befriended over 50 girls at Pasitos de Jesus (our girls orphanage) and played some very competitive baseball. Congrats to Dan and his team for getting out of their comfort zone for a few days to give back. For coaches or players interested in a once-in-a-lifetime baseball experience similar to this, please check out our website, CoachKeithMadison.com, or contact me directly at [email protected].
Inside Pitch: First things first – what are some of the logistics involved with organizing a mission trip for your entire program?
The first step is raising the money. As coaches at the end of last season, it was ‘make or break’ whether we were ready to take this thing on. The more we got into it, the more comfortable we felt, and I actually started to enjoy the process of raising the money for something you know will be life-changing for these kids.
Then you have the compliance side. You can go during Thanksgiving, which has been attractive for many schools but at Louisville, we’re not off on Monday or Tuesday for that week, so the number of days we’d be off were equal to our fall break. Since you can only go when you’re not in class, we worked it out during our fall break. The positives that were that we didn’t have to fight the Thanksgiving flight prices and that it was right in the middle of our fall, so all our guys were in shape and ready to go.
Inside Pitch: How did you decide where to go?
I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic with SCORE a few years ago, so I had a visual of where we flew in to, the buses, the hotel, all of it. I felt really comfortable reaching out to SCORE and asking them what they thought about hosting a college baseball team. Coach Madison and John Zeller were excited for the new challenge and opportunity.
We also had a neat caveat to it; we have a [Louisville] baseball alumnus from the Dominican, Fernando Isa. He grew up in the D.R. and was best friends with Jose Bautista; they went Chipola Junior College together. [Fernando] was a great resource for us; we sat down with him on many occasions and even had him speak with the team. He helped some with coordinating our games and SCORE set up our opportunities to serve in the community.
Inside Pitch: So once the money is raised and you know where you’re going, next up is what to do. What was your thought process as it related to setting an itinerary for the trip?
I’m not a lay-around type of guy. I love getting up in the morning and ‘let’s go.’ Coupled with knowing we could only go on this type of trip once every four years, I knew we were going to get up and go.
After we landed on Friday afternoon, all the players and coaches went and put on a baseball clinic. Saturday morning was the split squad game. Then we showered and ate and went to the girls’ orphanage. Papa John’s fed us, which was really cool, American pizza with the American baseball players, the girls loved it, and of course our kids loved it too. After that we had four buses – two buses went to one village and two went to another. We collected money to feed the villages and ended up with almost $1400. We loaded up those four buses and it was just really powerful, to pull up to a village, walk around and interact with the people, visit the church.
On Saturday, we played what I’d call ‘the future’ and ‘the past.’ We played a split game of up-and-coming guys – maybe 16 up to 20 year old guys- and on the other field we played a bunch of older, semi-retired players. That was a good buffer for us because we got to get a feel for the culture and how they play the game down there.
On Sunday morning, we had about ten or so guys that went to a local church while the rest of us went to a chapel service event where players stood up and shared their experience, what they’d done and what was impacting them, what convicted them while they were on the trip. To me that was one of the highlights, for a coach to sit there and listen to one of his 20-year old players stand up in front of the whole team, all of the coaches, family members, and share their feelings was powerful. Very powerful.
We played winter league teams that night and the next morning and when we got back to the hotel, I gave the guys the choice to go back to the beach or the girls’ orphanage. I have a lot of Midwesterners that had never seen a beach before, but two whole buses went back to the orphanage. We are now sponsoring several children out of that trip and I’ve insisted that the lady that runs that orphanage be a CNN Hero of the Year! It’s an awesome story; her testimony, how she came about the piece of land, and why she takes care of those girls.
On our last day we visited Colonial City, where Christopher Columbus landed, a little history on our way out of town. That was cool.
Every day, every hour was mapped out. The biggest challenge for us? Cellphone service, internet connection, and making sure our kids didn’t blow the bank since they’re so used to having those things on their hip!
IP: What were your observations on how the game of baseball is played in the Dominican Republic?
One thing that stood out was their passion and love for the game. They love the game. There’s a passion there that’s like the playground in New York, where basketball is life. Down there, baseball is life. All you have to do is find a field. They’ll play all day. I was glad our guys got to see the Dominican passion for the game. They just love it.
The second thing was seeing our guys compete against those winter league teams. Those winter league teams have guys that are 26, 28, they’re men, they’re in their prime. We played against double- and triple-A guys, against guys that had been up and down in the big leagues. I thought that was so educational for our kids. They’d start a 6-5 guy, low- to mid-90s, and then they’d run out another one, and another one. The second time through the lineup, Corey Ray is walking back to the dugout and he just said ‘It’s got late life, it’s cutting away from me, it’s the same stuff!’ It was funny to hear the guys describe each pitcher, because they were high-level guys on the brink of the big leagues.
[The Dominicans] are playing for their livelihood and it sends a message. It’s just like I say to every kid before they get [to Louisville], ‘I’ve never had a kid show up that doesn’t work hard. But when you get here you’ll learn that there are a lot of different levels of working hard.’ There are a lot of different levels of ‘I love the game.’ These guys down here are trying to get to the big leagues, and they’re all in.