The Blue Jays were in a hurry following their Florida State League North Division Championship victory over the Tampa Yankees in early September. Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida, forcing the FSL to cancel it's championship series and cram the final two games of the North Division championship into a doubleheader, and most of the team was set to be shuttled to the airport as soon as they got their bags packed following Dunedin's title win.
Despite their tight schedule and the emotions piling up in the room, the euphoria from having just won a championship, the anxiety from the impending hurricane, and the sadness always found at the end of a long season bidding farewell to teammates and friends, the 2017 Dunedin Blue Jays team united for one final community service project before they parted ways.
The team pulled a large cardboard box into the clubhouse and began filling it with their equipment. When it overflowed with cleats, bats, hats, batting gloves, and other gear, they grabbed a second box to hold even more equipment to be donated to youth baseball players in need.
This past week, the Blue Jays equipment was transported to Nicaragua and distributed to youth baseball players and teams.
Despite baseball being the national sport of the Central American country, civil war, natural disasters, and poverty have created conditions that make it difficult for young ballplayers to access the basic equipment needed to play the game at a high level. Only fourteen Nicaraguans have ever played in the Major Leagues and just three appeared in an MLB game during the 2017 season. With three quarters of the country living on less than $2 per day, sports equipment is simply too expensive for most families.
Partnering with the non-profit Helping Kids Round First and the St. Petersburg College baseball team, the Blue Jays helped make it possible for children in the impoverished Somotillo and Somoto regions of northern Nicaragua and young athletes in the city of Rivas to play the game of baseball. Players ranging in ages from 5 to 16 were provided with gloves, bats, hats, batting gloves, baseballs, cleats, and catching gear, many receiving those items for the first time in their lives.
In northern Nicaragua, the equipment was delivered in small communities of subsistence farmers where highly competitive youth baseball leagues are played on livestock grazing land between villages. Too excited to even wait for the pastures to be cleared of animals to play, bullpen sessions broke out next to bean fields outside of the farmers' houses.
When volunteers arrived in Rivas, the team chosen to receive equipment was in the middle of a sandlot game with two dirt-blackened baseballs and a single hand-made wooden bat. Players on both sides shared fielding gloves. Within minutes of receiving their new equipment, the ballplayers had returned to the field, too anxious to try out their new gloves and bats to be herded together for a photo.
For many players, Dunedin is a step on the path to a Major League career. Thanks to the generosity of the 2017 Blue Jays players, Dunedin has helped young baseball players in Nicaragua take the first step towards a career in baseball that otherwise would not have been possible.
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