Augustana baseball takes in the Nicaraguan World Series
Baseball | 1/24/2015 8:52:00 AM |
Updates from Augustana baseball in Nicaragua
The Augustana College baseball team is currently on a 12-day excursion in Nicaragua. The team has been involved in many opportunities on the trip, including playing exhibition games against national teams, sightseeing and mission trips. Upon the team's return, a full day-by-day blog (with video and pictures) will be released on GoAugie.com.
Day 2 - Sightseeing - by Michael Letkewicz
On our first stop on day two we found ourselves atop a bluff overlooking the city. We were able to view Lake Managua as well as some distant volcanoes, a feature Nicaragua is known for. Our next stop took us into the heart of Managua.
We viewed several monuments depicting iconic figures in Nicaraguan history including renowned poet Ruban Dario, and Sandinista revolutionary leaders Carlos Fonseca and Tomas Borge. We then moved to National Palace.
Now a museum and tourist attraction, the National Palace was once the scene of a revolutionary takeover in 1979 by the Sandinistas, an event which helped solidify the end of the Somoza dictatorship. The day provided a glimpse into the interesting history of Nicaraguan culture.
Day 3 - First Gameday - by Tim Huber
Today was our first game day. It was an early morning for the guys as we had a 9 a.m. start time for our doubleheader. Guys were up for breakfast at 5:45 a.m. so we would be ready to hit the road for a 45 minute drive to Nindiri. Were happy to get to the field and be able to take batting practice on the field. The field was in good shape and played well throughout the day's games.
We played the Nicaraguan Baseball Academy which consisted of players from 14 to 17 years old. It appeared that most of the players were 16 or 17. At the end of the day I commented to the coaches that they have done a very good job with their kids. Over 14 innings they didn't commit a single error and made a couple nice plays in the infield.
Game one we played straight up, our players vs. theirs. We played with wood bats and neither team was able to muster many hits. Final score was Augustana 2 on 5 hits and NBA 1 on 6 hits. The only extra base hits came fromJack Goihl with a triple to lead off the fourth inning andPatrick Fiala followed with an RBI double. He would score two hitters later on a fielder's, choice providing the winning run.
Game two was slightly different as Augie pitchers toed the rubber for both teams. The end result was again little to no offense and a 1-1 tie. NBA ended with five hits and Augie just four. Fiala and Bryce Bergpicked up their second hits each on the day and Derek Dahlke provided the only extra base hit of the game, a double in the fifth.
Clearly the pitching was the story of the day. Augie pitchers combined to walk just five and strike out 23 over 21 innings, limiting hitters to just 15 hits in 84 at bats for a .178 batting average against.
From a coaching perspective it was great to see the pitchers dominate the hitters. As I mentioned earlier the NBA players were well coached and drilled and played great. With that said the pitchers we saw over the first seven innings were guys that were around 80 mph and straight, without much for off speed. I give their young pitchers credit, they threw strikes and it worked today. The team had one player who stood out and may have a chance to sign a professional contract the way it sounds as a 17 year old.
Tomorrow is a new day, we head to Leon for some sightseeing and hopefully a slight change of plans tomorrow evening. We believe we will be able to secure tickets to drive back tomorrow night and watch game four of the Nicaraguan Professional League final series. This game is played in the national stadium and guarantees to be a treat for our guys if we get the opportunity.
Day 4 - Baseball is more than our sport - by Troy Pilkington
Greetings from 90-plus degrees at 7:30 in the morning!
I'll tell you what, nothing will make you appreciate subzero temperatures like being in a perpetual state of sweatiness.
But we digress...
The days of culture shock are starting to diminish and more and more we all find ourselves comfortable with being uncomfortable. He'll never tell you, but my guess is half the reason Coach Huber chose to bring us with him this time around is so he can spend half of last year's hotel budget this year and have 47 very appreciative players regardless.
All jokes aside, the trip thus far has been controlled chaos at its finest. Our translators, Victor and Andrea, along with our bus drivers, Javier and Fanor, have been artfully steering a tornado of 50-plus from sight to sight while maintaining impressively calm demeanor and poise, even through countless shenanigans only a ball team from South Dakota could dream up. They never get frustrated. They never get annoyed. They just keep on smilin'. This is their country, and they want to pass on what it means to be a Nicaraguan to all of us, even if most of us won't fully appreciate what that means for some time to come.
To me, that's the crazy part. We come here, gear in hand and the American way on our sleeves thinking we're going to help people less fortunate than ourselves. That's not why we're here. That's not even the half of it. And I think the moment I realized this was during game four of the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball World Series.
In order to appreciate baseball in Nicaragua you have to have a sense of the history of this country. For close to two decades, American Marines occupied Nicaragua before the legendary Sandino pushed them out in the 1930's. Per our history lessons, the Marines were mostly unwelcome in the country, but did leave behind two great American traditions: beer and baseball.
Boer, out of Managua, had the lead 2-1 in the series with the Rivas Gigantes, and the fourth installment was set to be played in Managua. As a team, you could say that any World Series game would be a no-brainer to attend, even (or especially) if it's in a foreign country. We know baseball. Let's see how their four team league compares to the big leagues we've all grown to love. It was safe to say that most of us were expecting an independent ball playoff game atmosphere at best, and we could not have been more wrong. The game was set to start at 6 p.m. so we arrived around 5:15 p.m. to see some pregame before first pitch. I can, with 100 percent confidence, say that none of us expected what would happen over the next 4 hours.
Do you remember those vuvuzelas that people used to blow when the World Cup was in South Africa? Someone told the Nicaraguans about those. The buzzing even outside the stadium was numbing to the senses. Inside, it was louder and more evident that this was no American baseball game.
Our pack of gringos made our way to a gated mezzanine down the left field line. Apparently our $8 was enough for not only tickets, but arguably VIP treatment as well. But if you think the price of ticket is in any way indicative of the quality of experience to be had, you're still thinking in the American way. This is Nicaragua.
The aforementioned buzzing never stopped, but not one person complained. The atmosphere was electric. People weren't sitting and watching quietly, they were up cheering and dancing. Mascots weren't just taking pictures with little kids, but going crazy on top of the dugouts accompanied with a team of dancers. Innings weren't a time to sit and watch quietly. It was time to be the loudest. Music would blare, chants would break out with admirable consistency, and if there was an announcer giving names of players before their at bats, no one could hear it. They didn't even announce the starting lineups. It wasn't about the players. It was about the teams. It was about the pure love of the game, on and off the field.
It was a spectacle. Countless times we'd look to each other in shock and awe before cheering our heads off for teams half of us couldn't even pronounce. We'd never seen anything like this, but we couldn't think of anything better if we tried. Being there was like being in Europe for a futbol game, or so we imagined. The passion was downright ridiculous, and we were jealous. We found ourselves envying the very people we came to help.
And that's when it hit me. Because we flew from a place where we lived in a house with electricity and reliable plumbing and had things worth more than a Nicaraguan made in a year, we made the mistake of thinking they needed our help here. Materialistically speaking, yes, most families could use some supplies and communities in the rural countryside needed some baseball equipment. But if you think they needed us, you're wrong. We all were.
Nicaraguans don't have a whole lot, and that's completely fine with them. That's all they've ever known. They haven't been numbed by the constant search for an LED TV bigger than thy neighbor's. They have their families, their friends, and whatever they choose to do with their days on this earth. They just live. And that's beautiful. They call this a third world, but we're the ones who've created diseases of obsession relating to social media and electronics. We've created a paradigm in which aspirations of happiness never stop rising into the unattainable, therefore most of us can never be fully and truly happy. We live each day in hopes that tomorrow will be the day we can finally be reach our goals. Nicaraguans are happy today.
All of us, myself undoubtedly included, made the mistake of thinking this trip was a favor from big brother to a little third world country. Nope. They've done more for my point of view than I could ever hope to do with my nose in a book, my eyes glued to a TV, or at the desk of my first job. No amount of supplies from home can thank them enough for that. Life is precious. If you're not careful, you'll live your whole life chasing happiness only to realize you could have been happy all along.
Baseball is more than our sport. It's the metaphorical difference between our worlds. We play baseball in massive, technologically advanced stadiums, sitting quietly, waiting for something to cheer for. Nicaraguans never stop celebrating. The game itself is the reason to stand and yell and go crazy for your team. We shouldn't hope to see the longest home run in history, or the next Top Ten play on Sportscenter. We should embrace the fact that we get to witness the game, in all its glory and magnificence, at all.
I'll remember the faces of the kids I met in the rural communities. I'll remember how it felt to give the game I love to people who cherish it even more than I. But I'll never stop appreciating the lessons that Nicaragua taught me. Life is so much more than a highlight of the best plays of the game on ESPN. It's about celebrating each and every pitch, every swing, and every play, good or bad, for the love of the game. And I can't think of a better reason to live than that.
With love from Leon,
#12 Troy Pilkington
Day 7 - Gameday #2 by Tim Huber
Today was the second day playing games. It was also the first day so far we had no set plans in the morning so the guys took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and relax. Most of us grabbed lunch and visited the vendors around central square in small groups. At 3 p.m. we jumped in the bus and made the 45 minute drive to Chichigalpa for our game against the Chichigalpa Naranjeros.
We were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up and saw the field. It was a smaller stadium (grandstand) but the field surface was pretty nice for down here. When we walked in, two hours before the game, we saw many people from El Rodieto waiting to watch us play. Rodeito was the remote, rural community we stayed with the day before. The fact that they found a way to get to the game and then beat us to the park was amazing. Very few have vehicles and those that do are typically motorcycles. Walking or public transportation, usually bus is how they get around. They stayed the whole game as well (and likely had a challange to find transportation afterwards in the dark to get back to their community).
The game started and the turnout of fans was unbelievable. We estimated 550 Nicaraguans were there. The typical Nicaraguan music was played during the entire game. It was a very cool setting and another great experience for our players. It gave them an opportunity to play with some nerves and work through it.
We went with freshman pitchers on the mound against a very solid team. They each showed some early nerves (and each confirmed they were really nervous) but pitched awesome. Kalib Mauch started and went two innings striking out four batters. He was relieved by Jonas Lovin who threw three excellent innings. Two more freshman, Dalton Allen and Ryan Helgeson combined to keep the strong string of innings pitched going for another 2 1/3. Senior Troy Pilkington finished up the eighth inning and to this point the home team has yet to put a hit on the board! The only blip on the radar in this game was the ninth as we allowed the first two hits and walked four. The final score ended up in favor of the visiting Vikings 10-4.
The game was played as clean as I have seen our team play in quite a while. We had zero errors to go with the great pitching and the offense had several crisp wood bats hits. Patrick Fiala, Patrick O'Donnell, and Marcus O'Neill each had two hits. We stole five bases as a team led by O'Donnell's two.
To further explain how impressive the no hit bid by our pitchers was, three to four of the players in the Chichigalpa line up were Chinendega Tigres professionals who had also previously played organized MLB baseball in the US. I personally was impressed by those guys and in general several of the players on the team. Just watching their baseball actions you could see they had a lot of ability.
NOTE: (I'm writing this following our final game on Sunday/Day 10): After having a chance to see each of the teams we played on the trip this team we played had by far the most talent. Many of the players had pro tools and I could see how some of them had been signed by MLB teams, with likely a couple more to get that opportunity soon. I guess it does go to show that tools and talent don't always win the game.Day 8 - Heat and travel exhaustion start to set in - by Tim Huber
We jumped on the buses in the morning to head from Leon back to Managua. On the way back we made a scheduled stop in Managua for a meet and greet with a couple hundred little league kids. We handed out some baseball uniforms and balls and then we were off for the our game. Today we were scheduled to play where we had watched the professional series game Tuesday night. It was obvious from the minute our players started warming up that their energy was not there. It certainly had been a long and very hot week, with many early mornings and maybe it was catching up to them. No excuses but I hope that is the reason the game play was how it was.
Dennis Martinez National Stadium is a run down, old cavernous place, much different than Flor de Cana stadium from the night before. There were a few handfuls of fans who did attend and some of them were there to cheer us on.
In chatting with the Dantes coaches prior to the game we found out their players were mostly 17-20 years old. They were also missing some of their best players who playing games down in Panama.
As I mentioned the game play was not terribly impressive or cleany played by us. We did have some very good moments but it seemed we couldn't make it more then a few outs without making some sort of small mistake. At the end of the day we escaped with another win and some very good opportunities to learn and get better from. That was certainly the theme for this trip, a great learning experience and many opportunities to grow.
Offensively Marcus O'Neill, Patrick O'Donnell, and Zach Dibble each had two hits. Jack Goihl hot our first exhibition home run with Alex Fink and O'Donnell each adding a double.
Final score was 12-6 in favor of Augustana.
Day 9 - We expected to see a baseball crazy country, and we were not disappointed - by Tim Huber
Today was our final day of competition and another early morning. We had a game scheduled for 11 a.m. in Jinotega so we left Managua just before 7 a.m. expecting a 2 1/2-3 hour bus ride. Since we had played a lot of baseball and had some long days and now another early morning, we planned to just show and go (play catch and start). Thankfully the scenery where we were going was awesome to look at because we moved through the mountainous area around Jinotega at a snails pace. Nearly four hours later we arrived to another very cool and intimate stadium. We had heard the place would be full of fans and it nearly was. They gave us a little time to play catch and we got started.
In terms of talent Jinotega was solid and played a good game. They were similar to Dantos. Final score was Augustana 7, Jinotega 5. It was a close game throughout, right down to the final out. With freshman Zach Reeg on the mound to close-out the win and a runner on base, two outs, their best player stepped to the plate and hit a line drive to right center. It may have ended up as a double with the tying run on second but their coach got a little overzealous and tried sending the runner home from first and we executed a relay to the plate and he was out by several steps and the end of the game.
Our play was similar to the day before in that it wasn't spectacular but good enough. We picked up a few more learning experiences and ended the trip with another positive, a win. Lincoln Voss was probably the most consistent pitcher on the trip and he tossed two hitless innings in the game and struck out two. Overall he finished with just one hit allowed over four innings striking out five and not allowing an earned run or walk. Collin Lovell also was very sharp for a second time. His totals foe the trip over two innings were three strikeouts against zero walks and zero hits.
Offensively we had multiple players again with two hits. Patrick Fiala collected another two hits and he was joined by freshman Zach Reeg and Lucas Barry who each had a double and two RBI to go along with their two hits. Marcus O'Neill had just one hit on the day but it was a big fly for our second home run in as many days. Marcus was our best hitter on the trip and he reached base safely in each of the five games and collected six hits in 14 at-bats to go along with five walks and two stolen bases. He added two doubles to go with his home run and four RBI. Patrick Fiala also had six hits on the trip in 15 at-bats.
Nicaragua Baseball Thoughts......We expected to see a baseball crazy country and we certainly were not disappointed. The atmosphere was awesome and we were made to feel very welcome at each of our stops. Everyone wanted a piece of us as it turned out. We had a chance to play two additional games but there was no way we had space in the schedule. The biggest question mark I had was in regards to the talent we would be playing. I was a little disappointed prior to the trip that we were not going to get an opportunity to play one of the four professional teams. The teams we played all participate in the highest division of baseball below the four pro teams. I had heard it would be solid but maybe more like an amateur league. I still would have been satisfied with that level of competition and the opportunity to get some baseball in January for our guys. Now that games are over and I have had a chance to see the talent myself I can tell you it is much better than I expected. I didn't see any player in the field that didn't belong. It is very clear to me that Nicaraguans are doing a great job with very little. I can see why they are starting to make some noise at the national level with their showing in tournaments and I can only see that continuing to get better. The mechanics, knowledge, ability to play the game, etc., was all excellent.
Day 11 - Sun and Sand: A Day of Rest and Relaxation at the Beach by Ryne Lees
Hola! My task is writing about day 11, better known as beach day. Before today, I had never been to a body of water that I couldn't see the other side of. I had been looking forward to this day ever since we got the schedule, and it did not disappoint. Javier drove us up to the edge of the beach and we started cheering like we had at game four of the Nicaraguan World Series. After our new assistant coach Landon Karr gave us some guidelines, we hopped off the bus and sprinted for the water. Forgetting to take off my super-real five-dollar Oakleys, I ran in and quickly realized the difference between freshwater and saltwater. The rest of the team and I began to do what I assume every kid does when they get to the ocean: crash against the waves until you feel like you ran 150-yard shuttles in 30 seconds. The next few hours consisted of looking for sand dollars and seashells, taking on the waves again, relaxing on the sand, and most of all, getting burnt. It was incredible. It was everything I had hoped for and more. It was the perfect release after a long grind these past few days.
The majority of this trip this last month had been structured down to the hour. Between the class on Nicaragua, practice for Nicaragua, and readings about Nicaragua, we didn't have much time to relax. And that was just the two weeks before coming here. In Nicaragua, our days consisted of waking up at six in the morning and jumping on the bus to head to either a cultural or historical site, or to a baseball field. Our only breaks were a couple of hours a night before bed and about a day's worth of free time in Leon. The days were long, and it was, as I mentioned before, definitely a grind.
However, looking back on it, it had to be. We had to learn about Nicaragua's history, culture, and society in 10 days and then experience as much as we could in the next two weeks while we were here. Along with that, we had to be prepared to play a legit baseball game by January 19th. To accomplish these things, our days needed to be long, and while it was a struggle at times, it was the best thing I've ever been a part of, both academically and athletically.
Our team got to experience something not many other teams get to - another country. Studying abroad is something that is nearly impossible for a student-athlete, but our entire team got to come down to this beautiful and fascinating country and play the game we love and I can't think of a better way to spend J-term than with this incredible group of individuals I'm proud to call teammates, coaches, but most importantly, friends.