Ball State baseball returns from Dominican Republic
Ball State baseball players did not go home over Thanksgiving Break. Instead, the team spent five days in the Dominican Republic, where they were able to give back to the local communities.
The Cardinals hosted a baseball camp for local children on Nov. 29, the team's last day in the Dominican.
It was at the camp when junior first baseman Caleb Stayton saw a young boy without a glove.
“He was pretty talented,” Stayton said. “I said, ‘Hey, do you have a glove?’ And he goes, ‘No guante.’ I said, ‘Here, take this [glove],’ and his look was pretty priceless.”
Stayton brought some of his old gloves to give away because he no longer used them, but he was not the only Cardinal to do this over the trip.
“I noticed that our guys really wanted to give those people a moment,” head coach Rich Maloney said. “Our guys are real active in all of the community service that they do, and they enjoy it.”
Players did not only create those moments during the last day. They passed out fried chicken and toiletries — toothbrushes, toothpaste and washcloths — in a sugarcane village directly after traveling for more than 12 hours.
During the trip, the team witnessed conditions most Americans wouldn’t dream of — shacks with loose barbed wire fences, people without shoes and no plumbing.
“I didn’t see an outhouse,” Maloney said. “All the things we just take for granted — we flip a switch, and a light comes on and we can read a book. Well, they don’t have any switches there.”
Stayton had previously been to the Dominican Republic, but he still thought the trip was an eye-opening experience for the team.
“When you see that for the first time, it definitely changes your whole personality — going and physically seeing poverty instead of just talking about it or seeing it on TV,” he said.
Visiting the sugarcane village allowed the team to sit back and reflect on the opportunities they have in the United States.
"I think seeing how joyful they are in their circumstances kind of makes you think, 'Man, look at what I’ve got,'" Stayton said. "Sometimes, I’m not as thankful as I should be."
The eye-opening experiences continued as Ball State competed against professional baseball affiliate teams in the Dominican.
Ball State played split-squad games against the Mets’ academy team on Thanksgiving Day. Team A beat the Mets’ affiliate 2-0 and Team B tied 2-2 before being treated to turkey in the academy’s cafeteria.
Before the games, Ozzie Virgil, Sr. — the first Dominican to play Major League Baseball — spoke to the team about the academy's intense schedule.
This inspired the Cardinals on the field.
“In the end, we’re all competing for the same thing — to play professional baseball," Stayton said. "They’re 100 percent dedicated to professional baseball, and you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t work half as hard as they do. I probably should.’”
After the games and the meal, the Cardinals visited an orphanage, Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters).
The Cardinals enjoyed playing with the children, and it allowed them to further reflect on the opportunities they've received just because they were born in another country.
"They were just born in the wrong place — that’s all it is, that’s the only difference," Stayton said. "It’s not because they’re not smarter or talented or anything. … It makes you just want to love on 'em because that’s all you can really do."
On Nov. 28, Ball State took on a pair of Dominican teams, defeating the Escogido Reserve Squad 9-0 and dropping a tight game to the Dominican Republic Naval Academy team 5-4.
Stayton said the military squad's upbeat demeanor was contagious.
Despite the field conditions and lack of equipment, the team saw the true love the team's down there had for the sport.
Playing a Division I baseball team was a new experience for the local teams they challenged.
"They think they’re lucky to play us," Stayton said, "but it really was the other way around."
Maloney boasted on the atmosphere during the games.
"When we went to the game, the crowd was electric like no other," he said. "I’ve been to World Series games, I’ve been to American League championship games, and there’s electricity at those games, but this is like a different kind of excitement. This is like patriotism."
On the final day of the trip, the Cardinals hosted the camp before heading back to Muncie.
“I think at the end of the day when you look at your collegiate experience, of all the games that we play and all the great teams we play and the championship that we already won with this group that [are] juniors now ... I can promise you that one of the things they’ll be talking about 20 years from now will be that experience of the Dominican trip,” Maloney said.
After the bags were packed and the team headed back to the airport, Stayton recounted the young boy's excitement when receiving his new glove, he couldn't help but smile.
“We were driving away to the airport and we looked out to the field," he said. "He was out there playing with his new glove.”