‘Post 47 Project’ to aid needy playersLocal American Legion baseball clubs rounding up equipment to send to young boys in the Dominican Republic
Haywood Post 47 Managers Caleb and Eryk McConnell were so inspired by what two of their players experienced they started the Post 47 Dominican Baseball Project.
Throughout the summer, the “Project” will round up old, unused and even new baseball equipment and send it to the Dominican Republic to poor young boys.
Two years ago, Post 47 outfielder Matthew “Pepe” Payero and Matthew Duverge, two recent Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School graduates, spent one entire month at a Dominican Baseball Camp in Boca Chica.
They learned a lot of baseball.
But what they also learned about the other young campers, ages 14 to 16, has haunted them ever since they returned home.
“There are parents dropping off their boys at these camps as young as 14 years old,” said Duverge. “Most of these boys are so poor, very poor. They are hoping that attending the baseball camp full time will help them get signed by a professional team at age 16. Not every one gets a major league chance or signed to a large bonus at age 16. Most don’t get a chance. And when that happens, they are back on the streets.”
For one month, each camper would practice from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., break for lunch, return to practice from 1:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. on the weekdays. Then they would play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sundays in front of scouts representing every Major League team.
The week long routine repeated itself for a month.
“We were down there to become better baseball players,” said Payero. “The Dominican kids were down there to get signed so they would not have to go back living on the streets. That’s why pro players from the DR, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other Latin American countries play the game of baseball with so much passion.
“But most are so poor, they don’t have any equipment. They use sticks for bats, they cut off the head of dolls and tape them up for baseballs and they use cardboard for gloves. That’s how they play baseball. And they play it with a passion. It’s sad, really sad.
“When we left, they were begging for us to give them our batting gloves, a hat, leave a helmet, a bat or a real baseball. It made me so sad because they have nothing and we have so much. We left our equipment behind for them and they were so appreciative. That experience has stayed with us ever since. That’s why I no longer take the game of baseball for granted and work so hard to be the best I can be.”
The players told the story to the McConnells and they knew instantly what had to be done.
“It’s a touching story and hard to believe. Eryk and I knew what we had to do,” said (Caleb) McConnell. “We have a bunch of equipment not being used. It’s now going to be used. Everyone we tell, they want to help. We are rounding up all the equipment we can throughout the summer and sending to the Dominican Republic to the boys in need. I know Pepe and Matthew, who are just class acts, appreciate the fact we want to help. It will also help our guys realize just how lucky they are. It’s a win-win for everyone. Initially, we thought of calling it the Payero-Duverge Baseball Project because they are the inspiration behind this mission. But both nixed that idea because it was going to be a team effort and they preferred all of the Haywood Post 47 players and coaches get the credit.”
Haywood Post 47 Commander Roy Pressley is looking into the possibility of having all the palletized baseball equipment picked up and put on an Air Force transport plane and flown to the Dominican Republic.
By the end of summer, no matter the method of transportation, baseball gloves, bats, helmets, T-shirts, hats, uniforms, batting gloves, balls, cleats and catcher’s equipment will be on its way to the Dominican Republic via Waynesville, North Carolina.