By Chase Standen, sophomore outfielder, Newtown Square, Pa.
As our plane began its descent into Santo Domingo, we began to see how beautifully green the Dominican Republic was, but also how abundant it was with substandard housing. The masses of shacks and run down buildings stood out among the palm trees. The second thing everyone including myself noticed, was how extremely hot and humid it was as we walked through the terminal toward baggage claim. The walls within the terminal were filled with beautiful murals welcoming us to the Dominican Republic. One mural read, "Beinvinidos a la isla marivillosa la Republica Dominicana!" Welcome to the wonderful island the Dominican Republic! It was a long process to get through customs, but I think our anticipation to finally see where we had traveled made it seem longer than it really was. By the time we were finished, I think everyone broke a sweat because of the high temps. We finally made it out toward the front of the airport where we were greeted by Sammy and his crew, Willie, Eddie, Aldo, and Lobo. Willie and Aldo were former major league baseball players. We couldn't believe these were the guys guiding us on our trip. They had purified water waiting for us, and helped load our stuff onto a bus. Off we went to the hotel.
The road on the way to the hotel was lined with old buildings and shacks. Some buildings were so old, they looked like they should have been abandoned, but instead, were either filled with people or running as businesses. There was also new construction going on right next to old, abandoned construction, and houses with roofs that looked like they were made of scavenged metal. Nothing here seemed to go to waste. Many of these buildings also had old coca cola symbols painted on the walls and words like "mechanic" or "hotel," spray painted where these types of businesses resided. Looking around while driving to the hotel would have been very depressing were it not for the upbeat Spanish music that was being played during the ride. We were just starting to see what life here was really like.
Once at the hotel, we headed to our rooms to unpack, and then headed to a burger bar at the hotel for lunch. After lunch we met up again and headed to the baseball field for a quick session of fielding and some hitting. To get to the field, we exited the hotel through a back door in the wall that separated the hotel buildings from the outside. The door opened directly onto a street we had to cross to get to the field. It doesn't even need to be said that there was an air of excitement when we first started practicing for this trip in Scranton, but that excitement increased tenfold when we stepped onto the baseball field in Boca Chica. It was an all-dirt infield with a bumpy outfield with little grass, but it wasn't anything we weren't used to. The only things that stood out were the houses surrounding the field and the variety of people who watched from their balconies or front doors. At one point we even had a dog roaming along the fence in the outfield. This was a funny sight for us, but commonplace for the players from Boca Chica.
At the start of practice, we were joined by kids from the town ranging from 14 to 18, and as practice progressed, more and more seemed to come. We also gathered up quite a crowd of local men, women, and kids, who came just to watch baseball. It was incredible how quickly our practice became a community event. With Spanish music playing throughout the duration of our practice, we all seemed to have a good time and most of us went out of our way to try to talk with some of the kids. Some of the team went beyond their comfort zones to try and communicate with the players even though they knew little to no Spanish, and others had a much easier time at communicating. All in all, it was a learning experience for everyone, and we were able to get closer with some of the kids from Boca Chica. One specific 14 year old named Gregorious, said that he played baseball for at least 9 hours a day. We were told he is also being looked at by the Red Sox organization already, so it is no surprise that he looked just as good as any of our players. Remember, this is a 14 year old we are talking about!
Today was an eventful day but just a preview of what's to come in the following days down here in the Dominican. Tomorrow, we look forward to playing the Hiroshima Carps, a Japanese developmental team formed mostly of Dominican players, as well as a tour of the nation's capital, Santo Domingo, where we will see a winter league baseball game.
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