Major League Baseball’s opening day is just two days away. Little League has already kicked off, with Wilton’s own younger “Boys of Summer” starting practices and working out on the diamonds around town. Sideline dads are also gearing up, figuring out whether to be naughty or nice with umpires.
Yes, it’s officially baseball season.
But for a handful of Wilton families with kids who play ball in town, gearing up for the season now involves making sure some less fortunate young baseball players will also be able to gear up.
Organizing the effort is Annie Clark and her husband, Tim, and their sons Wallace and Toby. Two years ago, the Clark family went on a spring break vacation and stumbled upon a scenario that would change their lives.
“We went down to a town, Cabrera, in the north of the Dominican Republic, in 2010 for spring break. We’re a baseball family, my husband in particular. Myself, not really—I’m a yoga person,” she laughed.
While they were there, they were introduced to Miguel Montero, a coach of a local little league team, who invited them come down and meet his players at the town field.
“They have two teams, the children range from 8 to 18. There are the grandes, the big guys, and the pequenos, the little guys. I think there are some really, really pequenos—the little, little guys,” Clark said.
“They immediately said, ‘Oh come, have your boys join in!’ Before we knew it they were playing with this team for the rest of the vacation.” (Thankfully this true ‘baseball family’ had packed their own gloves, of course.) “Practices, traveling away to games, I mean my kids had the best time. Nobody there spoke a word of English, nobody in my family spoke Spanish, but it didn’t matter. They were all playing baseball.”
The Clarks had so much fun, Annie returned to the Dominican Republic with her sons just a few months later to spend all of July in Cabrera with their newfound baseball friends.
“I wanted the boys to learn Spanish,” Clark recounted. “We lived in the town and they played baseball, and it’s such a cool town. The kids saw how, when you really love baseball, you really just love baseball. Everybody loves baseball there.”
Annie and Tim noticed something else about the game being played in Cabrera: absolutely no pressure on the kids, and no meddling sideline parents.
“When the kids strike out, there are no big temper tantrums, there’s no anything except people saying supportive things. If they don’t do well, they know there’s next time,” Clark recalled, adding a little pun for emphasis: “It’s a totally different ball game, it was so cool to witness. It’s just fun.”
Clark recognized that the spirit of the Cabrera players and parents was true to what the game of baseball should be about. “From the dugout, they’re all screaming, they’re so excited. The parents are all shouting little slogans. It was so nice to see. You get wrapped up in the passion. It makes you think if you have the passion about something rather than an expectation of performance, life would be a lot simpler, wouldn’t it? And that’s how they are [in Cabrera]. It was really fun.”
But the Clarks also noticed something else: the Cabrera teams were making do with a whole lot less than Wilton players typically have. Less equipment, less fancy fields and less of everything.
“The lefties on the team play with right-handed gloves and don’t complain. You’ve got a bunch of kids trying to play ball with a glove that doesn’t even fit their hand. They’re the scrappiest bunch—they barely have uniforms, some of them have cleats, some don’t. There was no catcher’s gear. There was nothing! There was only one batting helmet in the entire town. They go without batting helmets! And nobody complains. They walk to the field every day. Nobody complains. It’s because they’re passionate about it. They weren’t complaining, they were just playing, just for pleasure.”
The Clarks had brought some gear back for their month-long second visit, but they wanted to do even more. What if they could get more gear donated and travel down with a bigger group of people to help spread the Wilton baseball love?
So, they started brainstorming with another Wilton family, who talked to another family…and pretty soon seven families had made plans to travel to Cabrera for this coming spring break.
“We thought it would be so cool to bring a group of people down, because this coach is so amazing, he played for the Mets organization. He's awesome and is completely dedicated to these boys and their development, as players and men. It all just happened to work. Before I knew it there were seven families,” said Clark.
Between all the families going, there are 12 Wilton kids, ranging from 8 to 14 years old, who will be making the trip.
The families put out donation bins at the Wilton Sport Shop, and started collecting baseball equipment from customers and friends who heard about their effort. New gear, gently used gear, all of it is intended to help some boys 1,600 miles away who speak a different language but who also love baseball.
“We wanted to get some equipment to this town and play with these teams, and try and support this team that has been really critical for this town of Cabrera–instead of just wandering around after school, these kids play baseball.”
It’s a lesson that hopefully won’t be lost on the Wilton kids who’ll be making the trip to the less well-off island nation.
“My kids tend to be hard on themselves, but now it’s easier for them to say, ‘Put it into perspective, it’s not that big of a deal, just shake it off,’ when they watch these [Dominican] kids. If they strike out, they don’t go ‘Ugh!’ It doesn’t defeat them forever, or ruin the rest of their experience. I think that my children do see how much they have compared to these other kids [in Cabrera], and realize they have lots to be grateful for. We have a lot of wonderful things here [in the U.S.]. And they have a lot of wonderful things there too—they can play baseball all year round!”
Clark knows too that it will be a trip of a lifetime for everyone in her traveling group.
“What’s so cool is that these seven adventurous families will be going down to Cabrera. It’s hard to organize something like this and it just all worked out. It’s kind of like it’s meant to be. We’re off for an adventure, and I think everyone is going to have a great time, because people in this town could not be any nicer. And now,” she added with a laugh, “they’ll be safe, now that they’ll all have batting helmets!”
Annie Clark said her group is still in need of baseball pants of varying sizes and, most importantly, left handed gloves. Donations of new and gently used baseball items can be left at Wilton Sport Shop for the remainder of this week.