Oct. 21, 2015

The University of Notre Dame baseball team embarked on an once-in-a-lifetime adventure Tuesday morning (October 20), as the Irish program left Chicago for the Dominican Republic for a five-day trip that will feature four baseball games, some sightseeing and an exciting service opportunity.

Head coach Mik Aoki took the time to blog about the beginning of the trip while settling into his hotel room after a busy first two days of fall break.

Day 1 – Monday, October 19

Our Royal Excursion bus guided by our intrepid bus driver Smokey left Frank Eck Stadium at about 8 a.m. (EDT) on our way to Chicago for our annual Career Networking Day. The luggage compartments of the bus are absolutely jammed. Partially due to our players’ and staff’s bags but primarily the bus is crammed with bags full of items donated by our players, our fans and the people of the South Bend community to give to the baseball players of the DR, who by in large do not enjoy the apparel or gear that we do here in the United States.

We have around 90 bags and almost half of them are filled with items to be donated. To all of you who gave…THANK YOU!!

Upon arriving in Chicago the team split into two groups: The Blue and The Gold. The Blue Group followed a finance track and made visits to the Chicago Trading Company, Goldman Sachs and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The Gold group’s visits represented a more general approach for those who weren’t as interested in the finance aspect. Wilson Sporting Goods, Coyote and Bucketfeet were the stops for that group. At the end of the day we all descended upon Cantina Laredo for dinner and an opportunity to network and get to know a number of ND Baseball Alums and some Monogram winners in some other sports.

Kelli Zeese, our director of operations, Dee Dee Dolan, our career specialist in student welfare and development and Matt Weldy in the Monogram Club all deserve a special thank you for the hard work of putting the trip together for our players.

I’d also like to thank the folks (ND and non-ND alums alike) that took the time to present to, answer questions from and provide counsel for our guys. Lastly all of us are grateful to the alums that took time from their busy schedules to come and share a few hours with us at dinner. The day was a great one for our players and their futures.

Day 2 – Tuesday, October 20

The alarm went off foolishly early as we left the hotel around 3 a.m. (CDT) for the short drive to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Our flight left for Atlanta at 5:40 a.m. (CDT). We departed and landed on time in Atlanta around 8:45 a.m. (EDT). Our flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, left on time as well and landed ahead of schedule at about 1 p.m. Atlantic Daylight Time (which is the same as EDT but they do not observe daylight savings time so they’re an hour ahead in winter).

The Dominican Baseball Camp folks, our hosts for the week, were there to meet us after we navigated immigration and customs. A 20-minute bus ride brought us to the BellVue Dominican Bay Resort in Boca Chica. After quickly unpacking the buses, we had a chance to eat lunch and get an orientation from our hosts. The food earned solid marks and the hotel has a couple of pools and some nice open spaces for the guys to enjoy this week.

The guys brought their gear to their rooms, we gave all of the donation items to the group Baseball Without Borders, which will distribute all of it to players in the DR.

At 4 p.m. (ADT) we walked, quite literally, across the street to a field for a short practice. The field is made up of a skin infield (which was hard but in passable condition), dugouts and fencing that are in disrepair, an outfield that is in tough shape and a cement outfield wall that has signs painted on it. I felt as though a minor league field from the 1920’s had landed in the middle of a busy Dominican neighborhood – it’s great! Behind the backstop is a shaded area to watch, a cantina and some apartment buildings – one of these apartments was, I think, responsible for the Latin music that cranked up as soon as we began batting practice.

A group of maybe a dozen kids – probably 25 by the time we were done – joined our players in taking ground balls and shagging in the outfield. It was a phenomenal scene and one that, quite frankly, would not happen on any college diamond in the country the way it happened here. The kids, the music, the spectators and even a dog seemed to appear out of nowhere, and the great thing was that the entire surreal scene seemed perfectly normal. Around 5:30 p.m. (ADT) we walked back over to the hotel and a number of the players jumped in the pool. At 6 p.m. (ADT) we got together as a team for dinner, and then the search was on to try to see if we could find the Cubs-Mets game on TV. As I write this, I am not sure if that mission was accomplished. A long travel day but a really great day.

–Mik Aoki, Head Baseball Coach