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My experience teaching baseball in the Dominican Republic

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My experience teaching baseball in the Dominican Republic

A man walks by a storefront in downtown Consuelo. Over the course of my week in the Dominican Republic, my group and I got a feel for life in local towns.

A man walks by a storefront in downtown Consuelo. Over the course of my week in the Dominican Republic, my group and I got a feel for life in local towns.

Photo by Harry Kaplan

A man walks by a storefront in downtown Consuelo. Over the course of my week in the Dominican Republic, my group and I got a feel for life in local towns.

Photo by Harry Kaplan

Photo by Harry Kaplan

A man walks by a storefront in downtown Consuelo. Over the course of my week in the Dominican Republic, my group and I got a feel for life in local towns.

By Harry Kaplan

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When I first spoke to fifteen-year old Ishmael in February, my Spanish wasn’t good enough for him to understand me, and his English wasn’t good enough for me to understand him. But we were playing catch with a baseball in the small town of Consuelo in the Dominican Republic, and the sun was shining. So it was fine—we spoke through a common love for the sport.

In mid-February, I visited the Dominican Republic for a week as part of a baseball-oriented service trip. I volunteered at the local schools, coached baseball for the younger children and got a chance to play with an older Dominican team. I traveled with the staff from the summer camp I work at, Home Run Baseball Camp (HRBC). The camp tries to ensure that everyone who wants to play has the chance, no matter their financial situation.

Throughout the trip, I kept a daily journal so I could share my experience with the Whitman community and look back on in the future.

Monday

After arriving in the Dominican Republic at 1 a.m., we woke up at five to visit a Catholic church in Santo Domingo. I was nervous that I would be judged as a tourist, but when we walked in, hundreds of the Dominican churchgoers warmly welcomed our group—singing, dancing and shaking our hands. Even though I didn’t understand the prayers, it felt good to be accepted by the church and to have that welcoming experience.

Our group then drove to the Poli Tech School—a school our coaching staff has visited the last three years—in Santo Domingo to meet the students and visit their classes. The most amazing part about the school was the amount of activities and classes that were taught outside. Along with the classes being outside, the school had many carved windows to let in natural light, which is the school’s only light source. This technique not only saves energy but gives the students a nature-filled experience.

Later that day, I visited the English class for the older students, and they asked me to speak in English because they liked my accent. They asked me if I liked hamburgers and pizza, and when I said “yes” they burst out laughing. We talked about our interests and our daily lives. Unlike in American schools, this Poli Tech school aims to have each ten-year-old Dominican student choose a field of study that they want to pursue as an adult. It’s similar to choosing a major in college, but the only choices are design, electricity, hospitality, refrigeration and computers.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, we walked around the small town of Consuelo. We ate lunch at a little restaurant tucked into the corner of a street while motorcycles zipped by. The restaurant was about the size of a small hotel room, and it only fit three mini tables. This restaurant was what most of the Dominican Republic restaurants looked like. There were usually 2-3 employees at each restaurant who would cook, serve the food and work the cash register. Unlike in America, where restaurant staff tend to stay out of customers’ ways, the waiters and cooks in the Dominican would connect with you personally. They asked us where we were from and what activities we liked, and they would tell jokes and laugh with us.

After lunch, my group and I walked to the baseball fields to coach the kids. I was placed on a roster to play an inter squad scrimmage with the older Dominican players. The little Spanish I knew and the little English they knew made it difficult to communicate—a key aspect that goes into playing baseball. I tried to communicate with hand signals or use my minimal Spanish to explain something. The task of communicating may have been more tiring than playing baseball in the 90 degree weather, but I felt like I was doing a good job, and I was happy to call them my friends by the end of the game.

Wednesday

My group spent Wednesday morning at a beach in Consuelo. As we enjoyed our time at the beach, I thought about the two vastly different experiences I’ve had in the Dominican Republic. Two years ago, my family and I visited the island at a fancy resort, and we had no real perspective of the rest of the Dominican Republic: much of which is faced with extreme poverty. In Consuelo, many children walk barefoot, and many adults sleep in tents on the side of the road. Many of the kids I coached dreamed of playing professional baseball in order to help their families—knowing this added a different level of meaning to the coaching experience.

After the beach, we drove back to the baseball fields where I coached the twelve-year-olds, the oldest group of kids. I split the kids up into four groups for a drill. Throughout the exercise, I gave the players tips and encouragement in both Spanish and English. I would say “dos manos” and “two hands,” and I would say “muy bien” and “very good.” Other situations weren’t as easy. When one kid forgot to bend his knees to field a ground ball, I wasn’t sure how to assist him. I told the coach to stop hitting and I stepped to the front of the line and told him to watch me. I showed him my way of fielding the ball and gave him a thumbs up. He gave me a thumbs up back, and I watched him bend his knees the next time.

Thursday & Friday

With the trip beginning to wind down, I tried to appreciate every second of the experience. The morning before we left, we coached the kids at the baseball field, and I continued to build relationships with the Dominican children. We ate lunch together, traded baseball cards and had water balloon fights.

On our final day, we visited the baseball field for the last time and said goodbye to the Dominican children. We then visited the Poli Tech school and said goodbye to the students. As our final day reached its end, I continued to write down notes from each day. I wrote down the names of the people I met, the stories they told me and my overall experiences.

Ultimately, my trip to the Dominican Republic taught me a lot about Dominican culture, poverty and the importance of baseball to the country. Whether it was attending the local schools, coaching younger children or even playing with a Dominican team, the experiences I had gave me insight into life in a place extremely different from where we live and allowed me to form strong friendships with many of the kids I met.

This trip also changed my perspective of baseball drastically. It made me appreciate the support and opportunities I am given in America; but beyond that, it introduced me to an entirely different perspective on the sport. In America, I learned from a young age that baseball is just a game. After my trip, that idea changed. The game I grew up playing is their lifestyle.

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