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The Start of Something Big

July 30, 2010

By Todd Perry

Prelude:

Somewhere west of the Bahamas but east of Cuba, flying at 37,000 feet, Albert Pujols turned to me and said, “We need to do something with baseball. God has put something on my heart. I’m not sure when, I’m not sure where, but I know it has to do with baseball.”

At the Pujols Family Foundation we already host several events that are baseball related: The Suite Nights at Busch Stadium, Buses for Baseball, Albert’s All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. All of these events are annual programs focused on the Down syndrome community in St. Louis. I knew this time Albert was talking about something completely different. Something bigger.

Our plane touched down in Santo Domingo on a balmy Wednesday afternoon, January 28, 2009. Our mission here in the Dominican Republic is to deliver beds to 50 families in Batey Aleman as part of our first Sound Asleep Mission.

Over the next several days we began to deliver beds to families where the children often had no place to sleep. As Albert carried beds into these homes, one by one, he started to see a pattern: Single mother, three kids, no father. Single mother, six kids, no father. Single mother, four kids, no father… At some point while delivering 51 beds over three days, the Lord spoke to Albert’s heart. “I know what we need to do!” he proclaimed standing on the dirt streets of Aleman, “The baseball league will be here. We will introduce these boys to Christ, and teach them what it really means to be a father and a husband and a dad.” His eyes lit up as he smiled, “Through baseball we can reach these boys, through God we can change this village.”

July 23, 2010

The rain woke me up at 5:07am. This is not normal rainfall. It is not even a good old-fashioned Tennessee toad-strangler. This is rain from the back-side of tropical depression Bonnie. Between getting up at 3:00am for our 6:05am flight yesterday and getting things prepared for a full day today, I am running on about 8 hours sleep in the past two days, and the way it is raining, there will be no more sleep here until much later tonight.

As the team slowly assembles after a restless night of storms, we quickly realize the rains continue to fall and have washed out many of the streets in Santo Domingo and has made our bus and driver over an hour late. The Pujols Family Foundation team consists of me (Todd Perry), my daughter Kristen Perry, PFF board member Norv Beffa and photographer Gina Kelly. We are meeting up with a team from Compassion International: Kathy Redmond, Karen Wright, Ric Sieben and Bernard Okeke.

Once our driver appeared from behind the curtain of rain, we traveled down the flooded streets of Santo Domingo toward Compassion’s Dominican headquarters. Here we have shipped approximately $47,000 in brand new baseball equipment (mostly donated by Rawlings and Nike) to start our first official program partnership with Compassion International and the community of Batey Aleman: Batey Baseball.

Now at the Compassion headquarters we are praising the Lord that every one of our 87 boxes full of uniforms and equipment are present and accounted for. After a quick inventory and a plan to get the shipment delivered to the Batey, we climb back in the bus and begin our hour and a half trek to Batey Aleman.

The rain had all but stopped as we pulled off the highway and head down the dirt road to Aleman. Before the bus had fully stopped, we were almost completely surrounded by children welcoming us with their smiles. The first thing I noticed was the new baseball field. When I left this community back in March of this year, it was nothing more than a cow pasture. Today it looks like a real baseball field, with dugouts, a backstop and a fence. The best part is the field was repaired and cleaned by the people in the community. It was a tangible display of excitement and buy-in of this program from the community of Aleman.

The rest of the day was spent in meetings with Freddy and Felo, our two coaches and the leaders of the Batey and local church. The expectations are set and the leaders are all on board. Tomorrow we meet with the boys.

Before leaving Aleman for the night we stopped by our other new program partnership in Aleman, The NEST Project. Our partnership with NEST is teaching sewing and vocational skills to women in this village who have no other means to support themselves. The NEST program not only teaches them the needed skills, but also offers training in product development, purchasing, quality control and logistics. We were very happy to see the program moving as scheduled. The sewing machines had just arrived the week before and the ladies were all eager to learn.

Day one is completed. The foundation here is strong and ready to build upon. I cannot wait to see where God will take us.

July 24, 2010

What is that?  It can’t be…It looks like the Sun! Hooray!  It is the Sun!! After all this rainfall, the sun is a very welcome sight…But, not so fast. It’s late July in the Dominican Republic. With the sun also comes oppressive heat with 100+ heat indexes, every day, all day.

Once in Aleman we spent the morning organizing the boys into age groups then teams. My list shows 146 boys who are scheduled to participate in this league. All of these boys live in and around the area. Batey Aleman is one of the poorest of the poor areas in the Dominican. The word ‘Batey’ means ‘shanty’ or ‘shanty-town’. No one comes to the Batey. There are no Government or social services or programs. There is no hospital or clinic; there is no police or fire department. There are no paved roads or flushing toilets. Most of these boys have never met their father. They have no positive male role models in their lives. Without some form of intervention, they are destined to continue down the path of family dysfunction and poverty. That is why we are here.

Once we had all of the participating boys assembled, we explained to them what Batey Baseball is. We told them that we are here to teach them the game of baseball and we would love to see one or more of them achieve great things through the game. However, the most important thing we will teach them in the program will not be about baseball, but about themselves. We will teach them to honor and love the Lord God, from where all good things flow. We will teach them to love and respect each other. They will respect and obey their coaches and the leadership of this community. They will learn to respect the game of baseball and play with dignity and sportsmanship at all times. They will also learn responsibility to their team, uniform and equipment. And finally they will learn loyalty to their league and their community.

Each boy enthusiastically agreed to the terms and conditions for team membership and by doing so, set his life on a new path to break this mind-set and chain of poverty.

After an amazing lunch of chicken, beans, rice, yucca, peppers and vegetables, the truck with our equipment arrived and we began to unload, sort and organize the uniforms and equipment for the next day.

It has taken over a year to get this league established and funded. Now, looking at almost 90 boxes of Rawlings uniforms, bats, balls and gloves, along with boxes of Nike cleats unpacked and organized in Batey Aleman, I guess this was the first time I realized this dream of Albert’s is really happening.

July 25, 2010

Today is Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic. “It’s no coincidence that the day we handed out uniforms to these young men and boys is a day that represents the absence of a father for many of them,” Kathy Redmond wrote in her Compassion blog.

The day started with a meeting with the parents (mostly single mothers) of the participating boys. We explained what the league was about and what we expected from their sons. We also were told what was expected of them. Each parent was asked to sign a document that promised that they will support the principals of the league and that they will help keep the uniform and equipment clean and well maintained. And if they sold any part of this equipment, they would be disqualified from participating in any other PFF programs in this Batey.

Now, the fun begins. We start handing out the uniforms! I love the way Kathy Redmond describes this day from her blog:

The line of boys ready to receive uniforms in front of the Batey was incredible! These kids have never had anything new and really never had anything that fit. These uniforms were complete with Nike undershirts, sliding shorts, batting gloves, belts, socks, pants, jersey, hats, cups – every piece of equipment they could possibly want. For boys who play with sticks and use milk cartons for gloves, this was quite a shock.

One young man, about 15, leaped in the middle of the field once he received his shoes. He was overjoyed! And that’s the other thing – the field.

When I was here a few months ago, this field was disheveled. Animals roamed it, grass and weeds grew throughout and it was difficult to think that it could be cleaned up enough to play on it.

When we arrived, the field was fenced in with 330 foot length to the home run fence – almost professionally! But then we noticed the grass was still long – too long to field an infield hit. We remarked on how badly they needed a riding lawnmower for the area and were told they only had a push mower and it was broken.

As we handed out the uniforms and photographed the children walking through the village with their new uniforms, we were told that the field had just been mowed and chalked! This community pulled together to make this field the best they possibly could.

We knew they had it in them. They just needed the motivation and opportunity. It was amazing to see them rise to the occasion and let the kids know how valued they are, especially on Father’s Day.

When the kids assembled on the field and began playing, the greatest thing to watch was not just the purity of the ballgame at hand and the incredible talent of these young boys, but the fact that many men lined the field to watch – most of them, fathers. These men would normally be in the bar in the center of the Batey.

Today, they were supporting the boys. They were proud. It makes the verse, “and a little child will lead them” even more powerful than it has ever been to me personally. I felt it there.

In fact, I thought, “If you build it, He will come” and the “he” was not Pujols or any mortal being. The “He” was God. There was no mistaking it. Yes, indeed, if you build it He will come.”

Courtesy of Compassion International

July 26, 2010

After a huge celebration like we experienced yesterday, it is sometimes hard to come down from the mountaintop and get back to the tasks at hand. I wish I had a great story to tell you about the amazing afterglow from yesterday, but the unfortunate truth is this day we needed to clean up. The morning was spent with our coaches Freddy and Felo going through boxes and organizing their storage area, so that they have an inventory and easy access for all the equipment they need. We also made a list of additional needs for the launch of the league, when Albert Pujols comes in November. The league will start practices and position try-outs immediately. As they train and practice, the coaches will develop the players at the best positions to help their teams. They will have a ‘spring training’ period over the next couple of months that will culminate into the launch of official game play when Albert arrives in the off-season.

After another amazing lunch, we gathered the teams together for team and league photographs on the diamond. Before the photo we had our first league devotional where the service of God and one another was emphasized. The smiles of excitement were contagious. I think some of these boys actually slept in their uniforms.

There are still some minor details to sort out here, but the coaches say they have it under control. Tomorrow we may take a side trip to scout the next Batey to create a baseball league for next year. God is pulling us to Batey Las Pajas. I guess we will have to go and see why.

July 27, 2010

Batey Las Pajas is almost two hours, one way from our hotel. It’s not that it is that far, it’s just the conditions of the road that takes you there. I forget every time I come here just how bad this road is. Today as I am bouncing around in my seat, for almost an hour, at an average 15-20 mph, it is very clear how difficult it must be to conduct a simple task like going to the market or trying to get work in the nearest town.

Las Pajas is still a cane-cutting village. 100% of the infrastructure of this village is around sugar cane and the sugar industry. Most of the cane-cutters earn less than two dollars a day here. There are no benefits. There are less amenities here than in Aleman. Las Pajas is truly the last rung on the poverty latter.

We have some clothes that we brought from the United States to give to some families. We also made a trip to the market because we know of a family here that is in great need and can use both food and clothing. In this family there are nine children plus the mother and father who live in this three room shack on the outskirts of the village. As we enter the home, there is nothing, truly nothing, to eat in the house. Eight of the nine children are boys. There is one pair of underpants and one t-shirt between the eight boys. Most of the children are naked.

Kristen asks the oldest boy “What did you have to eat today?”
The young man takes her out back to the kitchen shed and shows her a bean can ¾ full of white rice.
She asks, “Is this all you will eat today?”
The boy nods yes.
“How many people will you share this with?”
“Eight people.” He says.

The clothes we brought were consumed as quickly as the groceries. When we left that family, each boy was dressed in a pair of shoes, underpants, shorts and a shirt. Some even had caps (Cardinal caps of course).

Just three houses down was a young man, holding his infant child, sitting on the front porch of his shack. Kristen began to converse with the young man only to find out that his baby (who looked to be two months old) was actually seven months old. She kept throwing up everything that she would eat and was not growing or gaining any weight. He said he had taken her to the doctor and he produced a stack of prescriptions that he did not have the money to fill. He begged us to help save his daughter! Needless to say we got his prescriptions filled that day and Compassion is taking the baby to the hospital on Thursday for a full check up. Please keep her in your prayers!

We thought we were going to Las Pajas today to find the next Batey Baseball site, and yes, we did talk with the community leaders about the potential of creating a baseball league here, but the entire team left there feeling a new call to this area. There are a different set of needs here than in Aleman. God is definitely drawing us here. I pray that we seek His will for this community and not our own.

July 28, 2010

This morning found us in Batey Experimental once again scouting for a new Batey Baseball community. The leaders in Experimental are very hungry and excited for the possibility of this type baseball/mentoring program to be established there, but there are some major hurdles that we must get past. First is the baseball field. The land were they currently play ball is perhaps the flattest plot in the Batey, however it still slopes from first base to third at a substantial angle. Also, the hearts of the boys we encountered there are not ready. They are very disrespectful and very aggressive. Seeing that this is a Compassion project we will entrust the behavior issues to them and the heart issues to the Lord. Perhaps this time next year we will see a brand new attitude in these boys and a solid candidate for Batey Baseball.

We arrived back in Aleman by late morning and began to wrap-up our last day in the DR. There were several people we wanted to see before we left. Maria, who has been paralyzed and in her bed for the past fifteen years greeted us with a smile and a praise to the Lord. When we asked how she was doing (keep in mind, she is living in a tin roof shack, with no ventilation with the heat index over 100 degrees), Maria says, “Very good, no problems.” She continued to tell us that Jesus is her rock and that she is blessed, no matter what her situation. She told us that her fan was broken so it had been very hot in her home.

Gina Kelly, hearing this, loaded us all on the bus and we took an impromptu trip to the Jumbo (Jumbo is like a Dominican Wal-Mart store) in San Pedro. While there, Gina bought Maria a new fan, fruit and books. Needless to say, there was plenty of rejoicing at Maria’s home when Gina returned with all of these items.

After a few more home visits and one last check-in on our NEST interns and participants, it is time to say goodbye. I have yet to even mention the brightest spot in my heart over the past five days, that is my sponsored child Brenely Sosa. Within ten minutes of my arrival in Aleman, I saw her running down the dirt street towards me with the biggest warmest hug and she continued to stay by my side every moment I was in the village. We would be working to unload boxes or inventory equipment and I would ask Kristen to walk Brenely home, only to turn around and see Brenely back, standing beside me or reaching for my hand. I finally just gave up and she became a permanent part of our team.

If you have not ever considered sponsoring a child through Compassion International, please consider it. I have the enormous privilege of being able to interact with my sponsored child every time I visit Aleman, I see what a wonderful difference the people and programs through Compassion are making in Brenely’s life. I would strongly recommend this sponsorship program and I would also recommend, if possible, to plan to visit your child some day. Brenely has truly become part of my family, and I know that I am part of hers. One last Brenely note, when we went to Jumbo, we took Brenely with us. This is a four-year-old girl from the Bateys; she probably has never been to town, much less to the Jumbo. While there, I got her and her sister some shoes and toothbrushes and toothpaste, and things I knew they needed. When I asked her what one thing in the store she wanted most, she loudly proclaimed, “Chips! Potato Chips!” She grabbed that big ol’ yellow bag of Lay’s potato chips like they were a life vest and she was drifting in the ocean. Whenever I need a smile, I think of Brenely walking through Jumbo, hugging that big bag of chips.

July 29, 2010

Today we have just enough time to grab lunch and catch our flight back home.

This trip has been very successful. Our mission was to organize and set-up the Batey Baseball leagues in Batey Aleman, we have done that. I am very encouraged and impressed with both our coaches, Freddy and Felo. I am equally impressed by the attitudes and hearts of the participants. These kids are very excited for Albert to come in November and see them play. Albert will also hold clinics for the boys to teach hitting, fielding, base running and most importantly, responsibility, character and Christian ethics.

Freddy asked what kind of celebration I wanted to see on opening day in November. I asked what ideas he had. He said with a smile, “Oh, I have lots of ideas! This will be a great day for Batey Aleman!”

Indeed, it will.

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Date:
July 30, 2010
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