Over Christmas vacation, five baseball players joined Coach Faust and recent Wolf Pack alumni in traveling on a ten day service trip to the Mayan village of San Jose for the second annual Belize Baseball Camp.
The group, led by Fr. Ted Dziak S.J., Loyola’s Vice President for Mission & Ministry and baseball team chaplain, traveled to Belize from December 13th to 23rd to teach baseball as well as academic subjects such as math, English, and arts and crafts to the children. The group included sophomores Joel Buhler and Daniel Pappas, junior Brian Reaney II, and seniors Brandon Snow and Michael Pfister. Head Baseball Coach Doug Faust as well as former baseball players Jeffrey Castille, Dylan Roudolfich, and David McChesney also made the trip.
This is the second consecutive year members of the baseball team have taken this trek. Five people in the traveling party returned for a return trip. First baseman Brian Reaney was one of those who returned, “I couldn’t wait to get back and see the same kids I taught last year. Some of them remembered the techniques we coached them on last year. It was extremely rewarding to see that.”
Pfister echoed that sentiment by commenting, “It was probably the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. We lived in the villages. We travelled to waterfalls, quarries, jungle, islands, and Mayan ruins. After returning from the trip last year, I had this feeling of doing something amazing. After two months, the feeling wore off. When Fr. Ted asked if I wanted to go again this year as a leader, I was all in!”
Their excitement for the service trip and the experiences helped inspire some of their teammates to help. Buhler said, “Last year, Pfister was talking about the trip while we were in the bullpen. He talked about the village, how you lived on nothing, slept on the floor, and didn’t have electricity or water. I wanted to experience that.”
Pfister stated, “Last year, baseball was a big part of the camp. The players didn’t know what to expect with teaching in the classrooms.”
The team brought soccer shorts which were donated for the children by a local company. Coach Faust and the players also left behind batting tees, bats, balls, and gloves to allow the kids to continue playing long after the camp ended.
Pfister noted, “Last year, the weather was perfect, we could play baseball every day.” The team encountered some problems this year and had to adjust their plans. “We had so much rain, we couldn’t use the village field at all because it was so muddy,” said Reaney. The younger kids had trouble understanding some of the basics of baseball. But the older kids understood and wanted to practice catching the ball as it was thrown higher and higher.”
Coach Faust led the baseball instruction for the children, “We worked on form running, not just for baseball but all sports. We introduced them to swinging the bat correctly and how to use the glove to catch the ball. There was an interest in baseball throughout the camp and the older kids really seemed intent on learning and understanding the game.”
The trip was a great experience for the players, not only did they have a chance to coach so many young children in a completely new environment, but it also affected every one of them in different ways. They were forced to live in muddy conditions without any running water or electricity.
“Not having technology really opens your eyes. It makes you embrace life as it is and where you are at that time. I consider every single guy that went down there to be my brother now,” said Snow.
“You grow closer to your teammates. We faced a lot of adversity in dealing with things we never had before and we had to fight through together,” stated Reaney.
“It was an eye-opening experience; I think it humbled every one of us who went down there. It gives you a better appreciation for the simple life that those people live,” said Coach Faust.
The group returned exhausted, but with memories that would last a lifetime. “Leaving the camp, you are going to miss the kids. It’s kind of a relief although it’s fun, it’s also very tiring, you are constantly traveling, and you don’t sleep much because of the conditions and the chickens outside that are constantly making noise,” said Pfister. “It’s very tiring, but it’s just amazing! After all that it feels like you have been there for a month.”
The trip help provide some clarity to Reaney, “I think going helped me choose what I want to do with my life. I always thought I wanted to go into a big profession, such as a lawyer, but this trip opened my eyes to coaching and teaching. Now, that is what I want to do with my life.”
The most impactful indication of how each student-athlete felt about the trip is summarized by their desire for others to share the same experiences, the responses ranged from “Do it!” to “Everyone should go on that trip!” followed by “Yes, instantly yes!”
In their own words:
“When you’re down there you get to know so many kids and their families. It’s amazing; I’ve spent two weeks of my life with these people. They live very different lives than we do. They are happier, and the kids seem way tougher down there. They don’t whine about things, they are grateful for everything. Just to have a relationship with them is fantastic. It is both humbling and enlightening. It’s just a different way of living. It feels more real, you’re not texting or watching TV. That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about the trip. You go down there and everyone is talking about things they would never discuss here.”
“The aspect of simple living and how people embrace life as it is even though they don’t have anything. That is the best lesson I learned in dealing with the truest of true people. They wake up with a smile on their face and embrace life as it is. That’s what everybody needs to do in life. We don’t have it nearly as bad as they do; if we crack a phone we get mad, but they wake up with no shoes and a smile on their face.”
“On the days we couldn’t play baseball because of the mud, we would go to the field and play soccer. We would be diving around, head to toe in mud. When the camp is over you feel relieved at first, because it’s a lot of work. When we leave the village it’s emotional, because you realize that this is probably the last time we are going to see this beautiful place. If you go on vacation and visit with friends or family, you can still talk to them and reminisce, but we will most likely never talk to these people again because they don’t have computers or cell phones.”
“They barely have anything for themselves, but they are still so generous when we come. One of the days they had a big feast for us. None of the little girls have any jewelry or anything. So we had an arts and crafts session where we made bracelets out of pipe cleaners and beads. I figured all the girls would want to wear those. And one of the girls, after she makes it comes up and puts it on my wrist. (Buhler looks at his wrist as he is talking, touching the bracelet he is still wearing) She doesn’t have anything like it, but doesn’t want to keep her own. It just shows the generosity of the people.”
“What happened? What did we do? It’s kind of crazy grasping everything that happened. I still haven’t wrapped my head around what happened. Looking back at the pictures helps the most. Wow. That wasn’t a dream.”