A Blue Jay flies down the Dominican Republic for a baseball and life experience – DesMoinesRegister.com
Between the end of the baseball substate-final game and the start of the football season just days away, Bondurant-Farrar incoming junior Casey Zarr found time to take a trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic through the Caliendo Sports USA baseball team
Zarr and 15 other high school ballplayers from around the nation spent Aug. 11-17 playing eight games against Dominican baseball academies in a nation that breathes baseball and glorifies its greatest alumni. The action on the field was only a fraction of the real goal behind the trip though.
âUltimately the goal was to play baseball but also see what these kids have to go through,â Zarr said.
Peter Caliendo, the director of NTIS Great Lakes region in USA Baseball, coordinates trips all around the world for his players each year, providing the opportunity. Eric Evans, an assistant coach for the 17U Great Lakes regional team and Woodward-Granger High School head coach, then got word from Caliendo and he passed it to Zarr that the team needed players for the trip to the Dominican.
âI couldnât say no to the offer,â Zarr said. âIt was a cultural experience that you couldnât turn down.â
The squad was made up of players from Illinois, Maryland Oklahoma and Iowa among other states. No competitive tryout determined the group of kids, as it was the first 15 to sign up. Payer from Adel-DeSoto-Minburn and Indianola also made up the crew.
Many of the U.S. ballplayers including Zarr, brought everything from bags of baseball equipment andÂ sweatbands to sunflower seeds to give to the kids.
Some of the Dominican kids came to the field lacking cleats and a hat, while some academies didnât provide uniforms or coaches.
A few U.S. players who understood Spanish made communication a little easier although a smile or thumbs up was able to loosen any tension as the kids grinned from ear to ear upon receiving a bag of sunflower seeds.
âWhat I learned most is how much we take for granted,â said 17-year Great Lakes and Woodward-Granger high school baseball coach Eric Evans. âWe played on fields that had fences made of car hoods. None of the mounds had rubbers.â
They went 4-3-1 during the trip against teams of varied competition levels.
âThe fastest we saw down there was 94 miles per hour and there were days there wasnât the greatest competition but these kids were always hustling,â Zarr said. âThese kids live at the ballpark and play and play.â
But what really shone through and was evident across the board was the kids’Â commitment to the game, and how playing to make it off the island impacted the style of play.
âThey all threw just fastballs,â Zarr said. âSome kids had a curveball but it was one those that just hung there. Nobody threw an offspeed because thatâs how you get off the island. Bunting is stupid.â
âEverything down there is about their ego,â Evans said. âEverything is about getting off the island. When they were batting they couldnât hit the curveball.â
Evans noted that they had a Dominican player join their team for the week and while heÂ didnât think he walked once, he also didnât strike out.
The trip Zarr took was the last of three consecutive excursions hosted by Caliendo in about a monthâs time and his eighth year of hosting these trips. While the opportunity may not be available in the future, Zarr says he wouldn’t miss another similar opportunity.
âI would go back down in a heartbeat,â Zarr said. âThe kids do everything for the game. It was such an experience that I would want my high school team to go down there.â
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