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!

Beach day

Saturday June 21

Today started off a bit gloomy but turned into a perfect day at the beach. We played some beach volleyball, enjoyed the water, and got to bargain with some guys on the beach for some good little presents to bring home.

After spending quite some time working on our farmers tans we headed off to the new facility just outside La Romana. The new facility is owned by Hope ministries and has a few different buildings for ministry groups that come down. The pool is perfect for relaxing in after a hot Dominican day so we will get a lot of good use out of it this week. We played a few of our favorite games before having a great worship session before bed. We all are thanking God for a new opportunity to grow together as men and use our strengths to spread the word in this area. Dios te bendiga!

Tuesday June 24

Today we had the privilege of playing at a former Los Angeles Angels complex right near the ministry we're staying at in La Romana. We came out scoring and went on to beat UCE (Universidad Central del Este) in a shortened game due to their exam schedule. Today was the first of two games with them this week so we will share our testimony and gospel message with them after the next game. Tomorrow will be another service day with the Hope ministry group here in La Romana. Can't wait to see what God has in store. Dios te bendiga!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Santo Domingo -> La Romana

It's been a great experience staying in the capital the past 10 days. We won every game here except one and we are leaving Santo Domingo with a 13-1 record. 
Yesterday was a national holiday here but UNPHU wanted one more shot at beating us. We battled back and forth for the first 5 or 6 innings but took charge later in the game to secure the win. After the game we shared our message and had the players fill out sheets to get more information on them. CRU and AIA are trying to gain a stronger influence at UNPHU and we are hoping that we played a big role in making that happen. 

Today was a pitchers deal against a UASD team that was clearly in the mood for some revenge today. Their lineup changed a bit from the game earlier this week and their one run was a solo shot by a player who spent two years at the Yankees Dominican academy. We had already scored at that point so the game was tied 1-1. It stayed that way through the game and we would need a big hit in extra innings to take a 2-1 lead that held strong in the bottom half. After the game we had a player share one of the best testimonies yet that definitely connected with the players of UASD. We then exchanged AIA necklaces for UASD tshirts as we had a great connection with this team as well. 

Tomorrow morning we are heading over to Boca Chica beach for a much needed off day. This weekend will be a lot of fun as we head to La Romana to finish up the last leg of the trip. We will also spend some time in the baseball capital of the DR, San Pedro. The next week holds a lot more mission based work but we will also get a fair share of games in. Can't wait to see what God has in store before I get home. It might be tough to get wifi in the days to come so bear with me as I try to keep up with posts. Dios te bendiga!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2 weeks down, 2 to go

We are already past the halfway point of the trip and it feels like everything has flown by so far. We have practiced at the SF Giants facility in Boca Chica, played against future signees in Santiago, and battled against a few different university teams in Santo Domingo. Along the way we have unified as a team through playing ball, sharing our testimonies, and having discipleship lessons. This is an incredible group of guys that I'm honored to be a part of. It's obvious that God is hard at work with all of us here on this team. 
In the past few days we have enjoyed a 4 game win streak, an off day at a nice tourist market, and a lot of great time in the word. Our wins have been over ISA (Instituto Superior de Agricultura), UNAPEC (Universidad Acción Pro-Educación y Cultura) and UASD (Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo). It continues to be a lot of fun to see how baseball is played here. Some of these college players have made it to academies or even the minor leagues in the past but have moved on to a point in life where they know the need to find real career. Although they could be past their prime, they still play with an great passion for competition and the game. It's exciting to imagine how much we can impact these guys at this point in their lives. We get to share testimonies and messages of the gospel with them after every game. At an important time in their lives where the future is a big question, it's perfect for us to be here sharing with them and doing what we're doing. We all hope and pray that as we are growing together as a team, we are also reaching these guys and impacting them the way they can be impacted. Thanks to all at home continuing to pray, without all of you this wouldn't be possible! Dios te bendiga! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Prayers for safe health!

Today we headed over to the field of UNPHU (Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña). We had our 3rd tough game in a row and won, improving to 6-1. The game was another back and forth affair with a lot of runs scored. After some battling, we scored a few runs to take a lead late and never looked back. The field had no fence in the outfield, so any ball hit over the fielders was an automatic triple or home run. This had a different effect on the game and it was kind of fun. It also made for a few interesting encounters with people walking in the outfield on a busy college campus. 

One meeting in particular started after the game was at a complete stand still. Two girls walking to their medical class apparently felt the need to interrupt our game by walking from behind third base to their class in the building beyond right field. The umpires called time as they strutted slowly through the outfield, not around it like the other passersby. Of course, they had to walk directly in front of me. Now these girls felt so entitled that they didn't even feel it was necessary to show the slightest amount of hustle. This was a perfect time to bring out some Spanish for me so I told them, "¡Vamonos!" Then they started snapping back in Spanish telling me they needed to get to their 3 o'clock class on time. I said "¡Pueden caminar alrededor!" (You could have walked around) and pointed a path. They weren't having any of it so they continued to snap at me. I hit them with a "No me digas" and that ended things. Although the two girls might have actually been a little upset, the two benches got a kick out the interaction and wanted to know what was said. It's a blast to use some of my Spanish skills down here, whether it's talking with another player or having some funny come backs to some snappy girls delaying the game. Either way, I've already learned a lot and have seen improvements.
On a more serious note, a bit of a stomach problem has started to make it's way around the team. We don't know if it was something somebody ate or just a bug going around but a few kids have had to sit out games to stay and rest at the hotel. We all have been praying for quick recoveries so that everybody can be healthy and continue to compete. I have been lucky enough to not get sick yet, let's pray it stays that way! Dios te bendiga

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This morning we had the pleasure of sharing company with a few former NFL players and a college football coach. One was a former Indianapolis Colt and two were former Pittsburgh Steelers who played in the Terry Bradshaw era. They shared their testimonies and spoke about the brotherhood it takes to be strong Christian men in today's sports world. It was a great message that we all needed to hear. 
Today's game was at the Olympic training area here in Santo Domingo. Now when we think "olympic training area" we would expect big fancy facilities but it was more like a big sports complex with multiple busy baseball fields and basketball courts. The game today ended up a lot like yesterday's game except for the fact that we were on the winning side. A back and forth game eventually went our way and we won 6 to 4 against Universidad Organización y Método.

After the game we were treated to some fried chicken and a nice shoe shine from a few kids looking for some money and food at the restaurant. We've had a lot of humbling experiences so far and this was another big one to add to the list. I'm extremely thankful for all the things I've learned and will continue to learn on this trip. Dios te bendiga!