• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Christian mission trip and baseball unite two cultures


This past summer, Barry Hartley led his Kentucky Rockers 17U baseball team and some of their family members on a Christian mission trip to the Dominican Republic. There they had the opportunity to share their faith, spread the word of God and play some baseball. Twenty-eight people made the trip, including a number of Woodford County High School baseball team members. They were Spencer Nauert, Ben Browning, Sam Flora, Hunter Hilbert, Parker Thomas, Seth Denton and Harrison Keith. There were also a few other players from other schools, including Issac Dotson and Blake Redmon from Franklin County, Logan Thompson from Spencer County, Evan Hall from Tates Creek and Jacob Wells, who lives in the Cincinnati area. The trip was sponsored by SCORE International (Sharing Christ Our Redeemer Enterprises), an organization that Hartley had worked with for a number of years. “Several years ago, probably about 10 years ago, I went down to the Dominican Republic with Coach Keith Madison, and then about two-three years later, I took my 16 year old, Ben to the Dominican with a team out of Chattanooga,” said Hartley, who started the Rockers baseball team in 1993. “Then 10 years later, we’re taking these guys to the Dominican. We’ve been planning (the trip) for about the last two years doing fundraising. We were very blessed to be able to pay for all the kids (and) the coaches on the trip. So, we left out on (Monday)Aug. 1 and came back on (Sunday) Aug. 7.”

During the trip, the players played three baseball games against Dominican Republic teams. They were supposed to play a fourth, but rain cancelled it and then something special happened. “One day we were supposed to play on a Friday, and the weather wasn’t real cooperative,” said Hartley. “So, our missionary came to me on the bus I was on, and said it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to play. But, we can still go and take a chance on the rain not hitting, or we can go to a handicap orphanage that’s a couple blocks away. “I went into the players’ bus and I hadn’t gotten it out of my mouth, and they were (saying), we’re going to go to the handicap orphanage.” While they enjoyed the baseball they got to play, visiting the orphanage and going into some of the small villages to spread the word of God and bring food and supplies to the villagers was the highlight of the visit for the players. “I just think it was really great that we got to go down there,” said Keith, who is a senior on the Woodford County High School baseball team. “You know, we go down there to help them out, but I think coming back, honestly, they helped us out more than I think we helped them. “It’s just a lot different to go down there and see everything. And, it’s just amazing that we can connect through baseball. Baseball is what brings us together. I just think it’s just amazing what they have and what we have. They do so much more with so much less. It’s just really eye-opening for us coming back.” Parker Thomas, another senior on the WCHS baseball team,also said that the missionary work was the most rewarding for him. “The missionary work was definitely my favorite part,” said Thomas. “I liked … going in a village and giving them, I guess, kind of hope is what it felt like, because we went in there, and we gave them the word of Jesus, and then we gave them food. Then … to receive the food, we put our hand on their backs and prayed for them. “I had this woman come up, and she probably had to feed five people, and in this sector there was only rice, beans … stuff that we would treat like ‘why would we want this?’ And, she was just so grateful. That was probably my favorite moment.”

There was also one other memory that stood out for Thomas. “The first day that we got there, what really touched me was – there were these two kids playing basketball out beside where we were (staying). And one of them… he was really, really happy. No matter what was going on, he’s telling us all where to go and acting like it was an NBA court. … But, he had long jeans on and no underwear. … I was like, ‘How is this kid so happy with so little?’ And, I just got to thinking, he’s just out here; he had no shoes, nothing. It was crazy.” As for the baseball, Keith had an eye-opening experience before one of the games. “I guess on our first game day, we got there and it had rained a little bit the day before,” said Keith. “And we go out to the field and it’s not necessarily in good shape. There’s no fence in the outfield or anything like that. But there’s water all over the field. “We get there, and they’ve probably been working for probably about a half hour of taking dirt from this pile and putting it on the water spots. I’m like, if that happened here (at home), we’d probably just call the game; we’d just go home.” According to Keith, “They were scooping (the water) up with coffee cans, paint buckets and stuff like that. “(So), as soon as we got there, we just jumped in and started helping them. It was just really great that, as soon as we got there we just instantly connected and were able to help and get the game going. “They’re obviously passionate about baseball enough to work that hard on the field. After about an hour, we got the game going. It was just really great.” After that experience, the players and staff made one more trip to that field. “Two days later, we went and we bought a wheel barrow and a shovel and a rake, and we gave it to them so they could have a better way to prepare their field,” said Keith. It was a small gesture those Dominican players were really thankful to receive.” As for the baseball games, the Rockers won one, lost one and tied the third. There were also some fun moments in the games. “The first day we showed up (to play a game), that was probably the second best team we played,” said Thomas. “And, they had this shortstop. … We all knew he was really good. Coming in, we were like, ‘Wow. This kid can play.’ “So, he hit this fly ball and everybody knew it was going to be a home run. As (Harrison) said, there were no fences. But he hit it and we were like, ‘Wow. That’s a shot.’ And, if it was an American kid or somebody (else), they would take it for granted (and) would have jogged it. Well, he was on a dead sprint; just bookin’. So, he hit that one. Then he hits another one and the same thing happens. We were like – ‘Oh man.’” Then in their third game, Thomas got the start on the mound and had another “eye-opening” experience. “We showed up at the field, and there was probably about 50 kids on that field,” explained Thomas. “And you can see (them throwing baseballs) like BBs across the outfield – like 90 at least. … And, we’re (thinking), ‘We’re about to get smacked.’ “So, we get (there) and we see … this one particular kid warming up, and everybody remembers him – his nickname was The Hulk. He was huge.” Thomas and the team later learned he was the No. 5 prospect in all of the Dominican. “He’s playing center field, and he’s just quick, strong, hits the crap out of it (the ball),” said Thomas. “I was pitching this game and he comes up for his first at bat, and everybody behind home plate has their phones out and is videoing him ready to hit one out, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’” According to Thomas, that kid did hit a home run on this third at bat and “it was a shot.” Overall, it was a memorable and rewarding trip for all of the Woodford players and families who made the trip. According to Hartley, there was one other moment they will all remember. “While we were there, before we left, we created some shirts to leave behind for the players that we were going to be playing against,” he said. “And we had Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengths me,’ printed on the back of the shirts. “As we got (to) the first place we played, lo and behold, at the end of their dugout, they had Phillipines 4:13 printed on the wall. We had it written in Spanish, so that was pretty neat. “…Our players gave the shirts to their players (and) they were very grateful and appreciative of the shirts. “Overall, it was just an amazing trip with some amazing kids and parents. It was wonderful.”

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