Oct. 22, 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.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki is blogging about the trip. Here’s his day three recap.

Day 3 – October 21, 2015

I got up at 6:15 a.m. (ADT) and met Sam LeBeau (Dominican Baseball Camp) for a quick tour of the area. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of folks up and around either out for a walk or a jog. We even saw about 30 people in a small public square doing a hybrid of Jazzercise and Zoomba to some upbeat Meringue tunes. I am not sure why but I didn’t expect to see the amount of exercising that I did. As we got back to the hotel at 7 a.m. (ADT), Sam introduced me to a player who is about the age of our freshmen and sophomores who pitches in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Sam later explained to me that the majority of the kids who have or want to be signed by a pro team workout on the beach at sunrise and finish at about the time I met this young pitcher. He says that they run, they throw and they do all kinds of workouts on the beach. He even told me he’s seen kids long-tossing by themselves … throw the ball as far as they can, run to pick it up and throw it again and then run after it again. They do this until they’re done. Can’t imagine a single kid in the U.S. doing this … pretty amazing.

At 8 a.m. (ADT) we left for the Academie de Beisbol de Red Sox. The young Dominican players that have signed with the Sox live and train here. All of them hope to play well enough to be sent to the States to begin playing their way to the Big Leagues. On the way we passed the academies for the Giants, Mariners, Cubs and Pirates. We also passed some houses and neighborhoods that are quite impoverished. The Red Sox have three fields – all well kept, a couple of batting cages (donated by Big Papi David Ortiz) and two buildings that serve as offices and living quarters for the players. Everything is functional but nothing is fancy. Surprisingly there were about four American players there. The Red Sox are sending some of their American-born minor leaguers to the DR so they get a better feel for the Dominican and other Latin players and where they come from. One of these players is a high school teammate and close friends with Jack Connolly, one of our freshmen. He was there to say hello to Jack as we got off the bus.

After infield/outfield and a batting practice we got the game underway around 10:30 a.m. We played well all around and we came away with a 5-1 win. Brad Bass (4), Jack Connolly (4) and Collin Stoecker (1) all pitched quite well and kept the talented Dominicans at bay. Positionally every healthy guy played and got at least one at bat. We played solid defense, had competitive at-bats and played the game well. Senior Kyle Richardson hit a two-run jack in the second inning to put us up 3-0, and I was really pleased with the way we played.

We got back to the hotel around 1:30 p.m. (ADT). The guys grabbed lunch and enjoyed some time at the pool before leaving for an orphanage in San Pedro, which is about a 30-minute bus ride. San Pedro, by the way, is the hometown of a lot of big leaguers. We passed Robinson Cano’s dad’s property on the way. Naturally there is a baseball field on the property where many of the local kids go play. The orphanage was great – a number of us attended Mass with some of the older kids that live at the orphanage. Mass in Spanish and with a very Latin flare from the choir was really interesting. Those that didn’t go to Mass played with the younger kids. Baseball, soccer, Frisbee, football, tag … just about anything. We all joined the fun for about an hour before the sun went down.

The orphanage does great work. There are kids as young as 18 months to young adults as old as 22. They live in houses on the compound, they go to school there and the goal of the orphanage is not to have the kids adopted but to prepare them for life. Eleven of the children they had there to begin the program are in University and they have one who is studying medicine. The kids are just like any children you see around the world. Our players were great with them and they were great with us. It was a phenomenal interaction and while a lot of the children speak some English, the language barrier sort of worked its way out. Playtime is, apparently, international and needs only the willingness to have fun.

Today was another very special day. It’s great being down here and our players are doing a wonderful job of being ambassadors for our country and for Notre Dame. We get to enjoy a beach day tomorrow – tons of sunscreen will be the order of the day. The sun is really STRONG down here.

–Mik Aoki, Head Baseball Coach