Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Final thoughts

As I'm on the flight back home to Detroit, I have plenty of time to think about what has happened in the last month. First off, I want to thank my amazing support group. After being accepted to the team I was scared about how I'd raise the money I needed. I was incredibly blessed and overjoyed with the amount of love and grace I received from different family and friends. This experience wouldn't have been possible without you, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. Not only do I want to thank the people who supported me financially, I want to thank all the people who prayed for me or the people who looked forward to reading the posts I made. I can't wait to be home talking to everyone about how awesome the trip was. If anybody has any questions you can ask me on Facebook or in person, whatever works. I'd love to chat about anything, so don't hesitate to ask!

Secondly, I want to thank all my teammates and coaches for the impact they had on me. Our three coaches, JMac, JD, and Mike lead our team to great success on and off the field. They built us up spiritually off the field and helped bring out our best on the field every game. Whether our struggle was field conditions, sickness, or heat they did a great job leading us. I had a lot of fun getting to know each of them and watching how Godly men can lead in the baseball world. Not only did the coaches teach me how Godly men should look in the sport, a lot of teammates did too. Being surrounded by such a great group of guys for a month was another big blessing. I still can't believe how, over 4 short weeks, this group bonded so well. The team chemistry we had was definitely something special that I'll never forget. Each guy brought something to the table. I'm so thankful for getting to meet and connect with all the guys over the past month. I can't wait to see how our relationships grow in the future and how each of us will make an impact in our area of the states.

Lastly, I thought that writing this blog would be harder than it ended up being. I pictured myself posting a few photos and stats from each game at the beginning. The more experiences I had, the easier it was to forget about myself and write about how God was working through me and my team. I felt called to forget about the stats and the baseball and write about what the trip was really about, serving God. Everybody who's reading knows how important baseball is in my life, that's for sure. I'd have to admit that baseball might have been more important to me than it should have been. It's something I will still struggle with going forward, too. That being said, a few different moments on the trip helped me understand what priorities should really look like. One situation in particular hit me hard in our last game. I was having a bad day at the plate, probably my worst performance in a single game this summer. I wasn't happy with myself at all during and after the game. When we sat down to share a testimony and gospel message I quickly realized that I had it all wrong. My best buddy on the team Jonny had just finished what would be his last true baseball game. I saw him struggling across the field and thought to myself. After the message, I went over and embraced Jonny with a hug I'll remember for a long time. I know that whenever my last game comes, I'll be a mess. I can't imagine a life without playing baseball. But what's more important than that is that no matter when baseball ends, there will always be a bigger picture. That moment with Jonny made me realize that the game we just played wasn't about me. That trip wasn't about me. This life isn't even about me. It's about God. 

Thank you all for reading!
¡Dios te bendiga!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Last game

Saturday June 28

Today was the first of a couple upcoming bittersweet days. We started off the morning with a great breakfast followed by some personal quiet time to do some reflecting on the trip. After that, former major leaguer Fernando Tatis showed up at the mission for a little bit to talk to us. He explained how he handled being a Christian through the pressures and temptions you face while in the big leagues. It was yet another great moment to make this trip even that much better than it's already been.
In the early afternoon we went back over to the old Angels field right down the road in La Romana. Today was the second game of two between us and UCE. UCE took a lead early in the game that they would hold on to until about the 7th when we finally broke through and started scoring. From that point on we never looked back and went on to win 9-4. With that win we have finished with a record of 16-1-1 with a lot of great memories on the baseball field. 

Basketball day

Friday June 27

Today was another fun filled day with some great new experiences. First off, we went to a beach in La Romana right next to one of the resorts in the city. It was weird seeing Americans on the beach who are here with a completely different view of where we are. It was a nice reminder that as beautiful as the country is, right down the road from a fancy resort there are streets of poverty stricken people who are struggling to get by in simple ways. It gave me a nice little sense of pride for being here with this group of guys doing what we're doing.

After a little relaxation time we left the beach and went back to the mission. We ate a late lunch and then headed over to Boca Chica for a night of basketball at a popular local court. An FCA basketball director who knows our coach managed to round a group of differenct guys to come and play against us. We played two long games with rotations of 5 players switching in every 5 minutes. A lot of the guys were pretty good, they even had an older guy who used to play in the Dominican basketball league and in other Latin American countries leagues. We won the first game then they turned it on the second game and beat us by a lot. After the game we shared a testimony and quick gospel message. It was a lot of fun to be with a different group of guys than we're used to. The experience was another great one to add to the list of all the amazing opportunities here. Dios te bendiga!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Estadio Buena Vista

Thursday June 26

Today we had our first and last morning game at a small stadium in La Romana. After an early breakfast we headed down the road a few miles to play against an academy team with almost 40 players. The players were anywhere from 15 to 20 and they all are looking to sign or find scholarships to play at universities back home. After a few innings of no scoring we finally broke the game open and took a big lead. We ended up beating the academy pretty good but it was still a fun experience. Our overall record is now 16-1-1. 

After the game we had a player share a testimony and so did they. Their head coach is a Christian and has tried to influence all the players to become Christians as well. A good amount of them are but a few are still not. It was exciting to talk to them and hopefully influence them in the right direction. God has definitely been working in their lives and I love being able to be a part of their walks.

God is good!

Wednesday June 25

What an amazing day it was here in La Romana. We went to the newest facility of Hope ministry to help paint their new building and connect with some of the neighbors for most of the day. The neighborhood we went to is one of the biggest in La Romana and covers a large area with thousands of people living in small houses or shacks. The new Hope ministry building has been used as a place to hold medical clinics and will continue to be an important place for the people of the barrio. Once again, we had multiple groups working different jobs. We had some people painting and others out spreading love with the neighbors, especially all the little kids running around. Over the course of the day we all spent a bunch of time with 20 to 30 different kids around the neighborhood. 
Since I'm still trying to work on my Spanish I stayed out and walked the neighborhood the whole day instead of painting. Up until this point I had not shared a message with any people in Spanish or English. It hasn't been that I've been afraid, just a lacking a little confidence in what to say. On the way up to one of the houses I finally felt the Holy Spirit working in me. I knew that it was my time to share so I even spoke to the family in Spanish. It was amazing how easy the words flowed. I felt this weight lift off me as my confidence grew with every word. The family was struggling a bit in their faith as they didn't realize that when you're saved there's no losing your status as a Christian. The mother said that she used to be a Christian but was struggling. To this we responded that even we have tons of struggles. No matter how much sin you're struggling with, God is always with you. We were able to share this message with the family and even pray for their growth in faith and the health of their family. It was an amazing experience to be able to share and connect with this family, especially with the point where they are in their walk. 
After the first round of walking we went to eat lunch at the new Hope building. After lunch I headed out for round two with a group who had no Spanish speakers. At first I didn't realize what this meant but I understood quickly once we entered the house of a young woman. The two Hope ministry interns had me translate everything they wanted to say. Even after facing a few future professional baseball pitchers throwing low 90's with good breaking balls I'd say that this was my hardest experience so far this trip. I struggled a bit translating word for word but I'd honestly say that I think I did a decent job of getting the overall idea of what everybody wanted to stay. I was definitely challenged with some things today but it's amazing what God can do. Through all the challenges I know that He's right there with me helping me out. As we keep going through this trip I'm realizing over and over again how blessed I am. God is so good! Dios te bendiga! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Boca Chica All Stars

Monday June 23

Today was another long day in the hot Dominican sun. We woke up early to make the 40 minute trip back to Boca Chica for a day full of baseball. We went back to the field where we had already practiced at early in the trip. We arrived in the morning around 10 to put on a camp for about 40 kids from the area. We had four stations in total: one for pitching, another for hitting, one for outfield, and the last for infield. I loved working the hitting station and utilizing my Spanish skills with the kids. Right as I was getting cocky about how well I could speak Spanish with them, a few kids weren't afraid to shoot my confidence down by correcting me. All in all, the camp was a great way to start the day. 

We started the game at 2 and played against the most talented team we've played so far. It was made up of former academy signees or players who are looking to be signed any day now. After three runs in the first inning between both teams, the game became a pitchers duel to the end. Being down 2-1 we had to fight to tie the game in the middle innings at 2. After 2 extra innings with no scoring we had to end the game in a tie in order for another group to use the field. One of my favorite parts of the game today was connecting with a 16 year old 3rd baseman on the other team. His name is Jahleel Velasquez and he is from Nicaragua. We talked about how he is here in the Dominican in hopes of getting signed in the next few days through tryouts at different big league academies. We also talked about our team and our purpose being here to spread the word. His English was very good so we bonded over conversations in both Spanish and English. Today was one of my favorite days so far because of the amount of Spanish I got to use. Kids and bilingual people are the best to practice with and I got to experience both! It's so exciting to feel my Spanish getting better each day, whether it's my confidence in conversing or just learning new words. I'm praying for more opportunities this week to keep getting better and connecting with people at the same time! 


Sunday June 22

Although there was no game today, we spent a lot of energy with a couple different opportunities. In the morning we went to a small village in Boca Chica to have a couple groups do some different things. One set of guys stayed with some kids having baseball practice to help them out. Another group set out on the streets of the village to spread the word. We had a few neighborhood guides who took us to different houses and share some short testimonies. After that we would pray for each family. Seeing how much we could impact a family with just a short testimony and prayer was incredibly moving. It felt great to finally get out and make connections with people. The baseball connections are amazing but there's something special about walking down a dirt road into a tiny house filled with 6 people and sharing God's love with them. 

After a few hours in the village we went and helped our head coach move. He is in the process of moving to San Pedro to grow FCA in a new place that needs it. It's amazing how much easier a big move is with a full baseball team. What would have taken a long time for a few people took only an hour or so for us. 
Leading up to this trip I wondered a lot about what our time off the field would look like. I imagined a lot of days like this and was a bit surprised to find out it wouldn't be like this until now. That's not to say that the first three weeks haven't been amazing, it's just that I was preparing for more of this. That being said, today was a blast. Even though it's hard work, serving is important and can be a lot of fun. Doing things for the well being of others is what it's all about. Dios te bendiga!