Illinois baseball head coach Dan Hartleb kept a daily diary and took photos throughout his trip to the Dominican Republic.
Aug. 2, 2013
University of Illinois baseball head coach Dan Hartleb spent the final week of July in the Dominican Republic as a coach for the Dominican Baseball Camp. Hartleb took a group of 14 high school players, including his son, Zak, to the island, where they experienced the baseball environment and culture of the Caribbean nation. The itinerary included instruction and games against the native teams along with sightseeing, recreation and cultural opportunities. Get a behind-the-scenes look from the trip with photos, diary entries and more all from coach Hartleb.
Bonus Diary Entry
Throughout the week, we had a number of young Dominican players play with our U.S. teams. The two mainstays that are hired by Sam were named Junior and Araña. Both players were great personalities as they interacted with all of us without knowing the English language. Junior is the 19-year-old nephew of Pablo Ozuna (former White Sox MLB player) and cuts hair for a living. Araña was a left-handed hitting pitcher outfielder with amazing foot speed.
Araña's story is much different as the 19 players to survive. He lived in a small, hut-type home with a dirt floor and only a small candle for light since they cannot afford electricity. When it rains, they are forced to bail water out from the interior of their home.
Once Sam's camps are finished for the season, Araña will travel to a small town north to play baseball in a league with many players that have been released from the Dominican MLB teams. He will play because he loves the game and for a small equipment shed on the end of a dugout and a daily meal. I inquired as to why Araña has not had opportunities to sign and sadly enough I was told that he has no identity meaning he was born in a poverty stricken home and therefore does not have a birth certificate. Without papers, he cannot leave the Island. Araña and the people of the Dominican never showed that they have little to nothing. They smiled, laughed and appreciated the life they have!
6 Things I Learned in 6 Days in the Dominican Republic
1. Baseball is a societal passion unlike anything I have ever seen. Players play for two reasons: for the love of the game and to make it off the island to earn enough money to make a better life in the U.S. and support their entire family in the Dominican.
2. Baseball started in the Dominican when sugar cane workers would take their one day a week break on Sunday and play the game of baseball for fun and competition.
3. You don't need pristine fields or parents to organize games. All you need is kids of all ages and all skill levels with a passion for the game. No players regardless of skill were left out or left off of community teams. Dominican baseball is truly a pure game loved by all!
4. Although there is unimaginable poverty in the country, Dominicans take great pride in hygiene and appearance.
5. Motorcycles are used as taxis and to transport multiple items, such as people, propane and livestock (I even saw a native holding a goat by the horns as he took it to market).
6. The education system is much different than the United States. An example given was that a child who dropped out of school in fifth grade and started working would many times end up being the boss of someone who went to school for 15 years and then entered that line of work. In many situations, higher education in the Dominican Republic does not always help you advance.
As a side note, our University of Illinois baseball team has been invited to the Dominican Republic for the week of Thanksgiving 2014. If we can gain approval and raise funds for the trip, we would play the Dominican Summer league teams that are affiliated with Major League Baseball. Games would be played on the academy fields. It is my hope that we will be able to make this trip to help our program and players in multiple areas.
By NCAA rules, teams may take a foreign tour once every four years. We would be allowed to play the games in the Dominican without being penalized on our 56-game schedule, and we would be allotted 10 extra practice dates prior to the trip which would help with the development of our players.
Lastly, but most important, it is my hope that our players can experience the culture, see first hand the poverty of an entire Republic and to help out the native people of the Dominican with goodwill work while on the island. I am confident that this trip would be a lifelong lesson and memory for all involved and hopefully everyone will better appreciate what we all have in the United States of America!