Illini baseball coach Dan Hartleb will check in periodically during his trip to the Dominican Republic. His fourth entry:
This day started with a 7:30 wake-up call, a shower and a Cliff Bar breakfast. At 8:30, the teams met in the lobby for a quick set of instructions for today’s games. We were told up front that this will be a day unlike any we have experienced in our lives.
My son, Zak, had the opportunity to play games the entire morning with players 9-12 years old. The field that we used for our game on Day 1 was divided into three fields for the morning of youth baseball. Zak was excited for the opportunity, and he and another coach’s son, Jake, walked to the games. Keep in mind that Zak and Jake were the only two non-Spanish-speakers in the ballpark of about 100 people.
Back to our true adventure. We piled into the buses and were told that we would be making a quick stop to pick up a number of Dominicans to play against our teams. As we pulled away for our 15-mile trip, none of us had any idea that we would be traveling in the buses for 1 hour and 15 minutes, as we will travel the last 10 miles through a maze of potholes through the sugar cane fields to a small village of Guajabo. This small village is made up of wooden hut-like houses, many with dirt floors, that have nothing more than a hole in the ground with sticks holding up blankets or tarps to act as what we know as a bathroom. We pulled up to the field, which is a backstop with two box-like square dugouts, a limestone looking mound, real American bases, potholes throughout the weed-infested infield, and a swampy, cow paddy-riddled outfield. Our players hurried to stretch and throw in true Dominican fashion as we start the game immediately. The game rolled along smoothly through 11/2 innings until one of the large 800-pound cows decided that we were playing in his pasture. In the cow’s non-aggressive manner, he proceeded to walk between the center fielder and right fielder in a very direct manner. Suddenly, the umpire jumped from behind the plate, called time and pulled off his mask to watch the center fielder sprinting behind the cow, driving him into foul territory to graze as if nobody were around.
As the game continues, Arno arrives at the third-base coaching box, handing me a fresh mango from the mango tree next to the small hut-type house. Since I had not seen Arno for the last half-inning I asked if he climbed the tree to get my snack. His simple reply was, “No, all good Dominican pitchers knock them out of the trees with rocks.” As if it were normal, Arno and I stood in the third-base coaching box and ate fresh knocked down mangoes as our team continued to bat.
Later, we loaded the buses and headed to the former Chicago Cubs Academy for a day of practice run by myself and coach Boss. After a crisp, 21/2 hour workout and a 30-minute general recruiting information session, we headed back to the hotel for the day.