How God Used a Few College Students to Build a Baseball Program for Boys in the Dominican Republic


When Hennri was growing up in the Dominican Republic, he had a difficult home life. His father left when he was young, and his mother left later when he was 10. Thankfully, he was able to live with his grandmother while he grew up. But he didn't go to school, roamed the streets, and got involved in a lot of fights.

“No one could talk to me without me wanting to fight. I was rebellious,” said Hennri. “It would cause problems for me and my grandma.” It wasn’t until he met a local baseball coach, José Carrion, at a car wash, that things started to change for him.

“When I met him, I was carrying a machete on my side because I had a lot of problems,” Hennri said.

“He had that machete to defend himself from his enemies. He would fight with his machete on the streets,” José said.

So, the two struck a deal: Hennri would join the I Love Baseball (ILB) program on one condition. “He gave me his machete in exchange for a pair of cleats and a glove,” said José. After some time, Hennri started going to school and began to make new friends. “He’s been given a great opportunity to grow in school, in sports, and in his spirituality,” said Coach Carrion.

“I feel much better now that I am with my ILB family,” Hennri added.




Baseball in the Dominican Republic

Hennri’s childhood is common in the Dominican Republic. Despite being a popular tourist destination, in bateys, originally built for migrant sugarcane workers. Despite being a popular tourist destination, 40.4 percent of the population in the Dominican Republic live in poverty, in bateys, originally built for migrant sugarcane workers.

A lot of the boys and young men in the Dominican Republic have one dream: make it big in professional baseball. Because of this, a lot of them drop out of school and focus all their time and energy on this sport. The country is known for producing some of the greatest professional baseball players, but it comes at a hidden cost.

In the Dominican Republic, sports agents and trainers known as buscones prey on boys and their families by promising them a shot at getting signed to a major league farm team if they drop out of school and train with them. They offer them baseball training, food, transportation, and sometimes even a place to live.

“Because most of these boys are poor... they are vulnerable to those seeking to profit from their talent,” cites an article on Dominican baseball.

Some buscones are positive figures in a young boy’s life, but other times, they serve as “predatory” figures, says Rob. They can ruin their players’ health by pushing them too hard in training or even encouraging them to use steroids.




“When kids are 10, 12, or 13 years old, they get this dream of playing professional baseball and the riches and in order to do that, the kids are pressured to focus their entire life on baseball and don’t go to school, forfeiting everything,” said Ben Holman, co-founder of ILB.

But less than one percent of players in the country have the opportunity to sign a contract to play professional baseball. So, by the time a young player turns 17 or 18 and doesn’t have a baseball contract, they have nothing to show for all their efforts—no education or transferable skills for getting a job.

“Players as young as 10 years old... spend their life like a professional baseball player—no way to read or write, no professional way outside of baseball,” said Brian Bauer, a former ILB volunteer.

The history of baseball in the Dominican Republic is complex. Buscones are not the only ones involved in exploiting boys. The MLB and foreign investors also seek to gain from the success of young boys getting signed to play professional baseball. With all these competing factors at play, “the lives of young boys hang in the balance,” says Rob. 


I Love Baseball is Born 

In 2003, Ben was a student at the University of Washington and working as an intern in the Dominican Republic. Ben and his fellow interns were there to teach and do outreach in the bateys. “Halfway through my time there we were wanting to connect with a bunch of the older guys in the bateys and having a really hard time with that,” said Ben.

So, he and a fellow intern Jason Diaz decided to put together a baseball team for one of the city’s men’s leagues in Barahona and recruit some of those players from the bateys to play with them. After a few days of games, Ben and Jason went from being outsiders on the team to connecting with the players after forcing a few outs during a game. “Baseball is what provided this portal into connecting with this group… the walls were broken down through that,” he added.




Shortly after those games, they started a Bible study with the players and started having deeper conversations and making breakthroughs. A few years later in 2006, Chris McCoy, a baseball player at the University of Washington, went to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. With the help of a former Husky baseball coach, Dale Parker, Chris brought down baseball gear to children through Dale's church. Chris and his team made T-shirts that they gave to children with slogans on them like “me gusta beisbol” which roughly translates to “I love baseball.”

On that trip, Chris met Ben in the Dominican Republic at an internet café. The pair hit it off and bonded over their love of baseball and heart for the children they were serving. Then Chris had an idea: what if they kept this work going from home?




“I created a layout of it and talked to Ben the next day and he was open to it right away and had a big heart for the kids. I was more of the ‘baseball guy’ and he was more of the ‘kids guy,’” said Chris. Chris took the slogan from the T-shirts “me gusta beisbol” and turned it into the name of their organization: I Love Baseball Foundation.

When they got back home to Seattle, the two brought in a group of people to help them grow ILB: Brian Bauer, Brandon Bleek, Seth Yates, Candice (Garza) Silvers, Ellen (Berwold) Ramm, Ryan Church, and others.

“In the beginning days of ILB, work was mostly done in coffee shops and in our homes. We were doing virtual work before it was even a thing,” said Seth, who was in charge of marketing and awareness as well as photo and video content for the original ILB documentary. At the beginning, the focus was to build the program from scratch and gain support from partners in the United States. "The initial goals and dreams were simple," Seth said. ILB was designed to give young baseball players the best shot at playing at the next level. “But if that didn't happen—and it doesn't for more than 99 percent of players in the Dominican—we wanted them to have a strong educational and spiritual foundation to lean back on,” Seth said.




Donors in the United States could sponsor ILB players which gave the program the funding it needed to get equipment for the players, assemble a coaching and training staff, collaborate with teachers to focus on the players' education, and hire a cook so the players could have proper nutrition as many struggled to afford enough food each day.

“It was so much more complicated than we thought, and Ben did an amazing job of seeing each step of the process through to build things up in sustainable ways in the nonprofit sector,” said Brian. After a few years, ILB became an official ministry of Children of the Nations 2008 with Ben at the helm. “Ben was a champion for [the ILB players] here in the United States and there in the Dominican Republic,” said Kyle Harmon, who first got involved in 2011. “Ben is a quiet leader, but he leads by example. He was always advocating for the program, and he never stopped.”


Salomón’s Story

When Salomón was growing up, his only hope of breaking out of poverty was the slim chance he could make it as a professional baseball pitcher. His family had just enough money to feed themselves and buy basic supplies, but there wasn't enough for education. Like so many other boys in the country, he could have dropped out of school in hopes of becoming a baseball player. But instead, he chose to do something else. “[ILB] interested me a lot because in it I could see an opportunity to be able to progress more as a baseball player and also I could advance in school,” Salomón says.

Even though his dream of signing a baseball contract with a major league team didn’t come true, he started to form a new dream. A dream of becoming a doctor. He ended up staying in school and worked hard to graduate from medical school with flying colors. 




“I feel overjoyed to have realized my dream,” he says, “Not only of being a doctor but also of being a member of the Children of the Nations family.”

Today, he is a doctor with Children of the Nations, and his job includes working closely on prevention, outreach, and teaching children about health in the communities. Because of his dedication and ILB, Salomón had the tools, education, and skills he needed to not only transform his own future, but also his community’s.


Mentoring Through Coaching

Years before ILB even started, Maximo Ortiz was doing outreach in the bateys and teaching baseball to boys in the community. Maximo is a Dominican pastor and coach from a nearby town who is passionate about using baseball to reach at-risk boys and teens. He joined ILB at the very beginning as a volunteer and is now head of mentoring and raising up the players with strong character and spirituality.

“As a pastor, I am in charge of conducting daily Bible devotionals to children and giving some biblical teachings that can be applied in their lives,” said Maximo.

Mentorship is a huge part of ILB. With Ruddy and the Dominican staff checking in on players' grades and encouraging them in their personal lives every day, they are motivated to work as hard in school as they do on the field.




“What I like most about ILB are the three basic strategies of formation for young people—the spiritual part, educational part, and sports part,” Maximo added.

Ruddy Luciano, the program director since 2011, also enjoys seeing the boys strengthen their character despite the obstacles they face.

“To see how they face difficulty with a smile is inspiring. I think that adults need to learn that strength and positive energy from these kids,” Ruddy said.


A New Field for ILB

For the first 10 years of the I Love Baseball program, players were using a public park that was often littered with trash and had livestock wandering through the outfield, despite the ILB players’ efforts to keep the field maintained. Because the park was a shared community space, other teams also used the field, so it wasn’t always available.




Because of these issues, in 2009, the dream of building a new baseball field for ILB began to form. The Dominican staff found 7.44 acres to build a baseball field and complex that would be a home base to better serve the boys in ILB.

It took a lot of hard work and perseverance, but after seven years of fundraising and planning, buying the land finally became possible in 2017. Thankfully, on July 1, 2020, ILB celebrated the groundbreaking of the new field. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction for the new complex continued.

Thanks to the incredibly generous donors and the dedicated Dominican staff, the ILB field became a reality. By the end of 2020, the ILB field was officially complete. And in July 2022, ILB gathered for the grand opening ceremony of the new field with players, coaches, staff, and fans. 




“What I like most about the new field is the tranquility it offers, since there are not as many interruptions as before in the place we practiced.” said José David, one of the boys in the program.

Today, the new field allows more space for players and has new facilities. Along with the baseball field, there are home and visitor dugouts, restrooms, an office, kitchen, and grandstands with rows for seating. With this new field and complex, ILB will be able to reach even more boys in the community. 

“I know that the new field has given the players the sense that this is for real,” said Chris Clark, Children of the Nations’ founder and CEO. “It's not a ‘pie in the sky’ dream—there’s a tangible piece of property that’s ours now.”




One of those players is José Luis. “Before being in ILB, I just hung around in the neighborhood, I didn’t have a specific activity, and didn’t play baseball,” José Luis said. Once he was with ILB for a while, he began to change. "After I started ILB, I have something to do, [and] we are taught to prioritize studies [and] are taught to have good behavior," he said.

Recently, he earned second place at his high school of more than 400 students for his academic performance. “[José Luis] has remarkable intelligence, and deserves praise for his work in school,” said Ruddy.

“The fact that [the ILB coaches] motivate us to give our best helps us not to settle and try to be better and that has helped me to get better grades,” José Luis said.

Because of ILB, boys and young men can still chase their dream of becoming a professional baseball player, while at the same time working toward a high school diploma. And more importantly, boys can learn what it means to grow up to become a man of strong character. 

“My life has been a blessing to belong to the ILB program and I feel that there is not only one option to achieve our goals and I have learned this thanks to ILB,” José Luis added. Now, there is a place where young men like José Luis can go to learn and grow. A place where boys can imagine a new life and a new future. A place where they can begin to dream a new dream and break out of cycles of poverty by becoming the next generation of leaders in their community.




“A lot of people had their hands in this thing,” said Chris McCoy. “We almost died a few times, and we kept going with a sheer force of will, care for the kids, and belief behind the notion that education worked in the best interest of the kids.”

“The victory would be that these young people have a sense of spirituality that is available to them by walking and resting in Christ. Transformation is happening there. That above anything is the goal,” said Chris Clark. Changing lives starts with an idea and can turn into something beautiful. Just like when Maximo, Ruddy, Chris, Ben, and others get involved, lives can be transformed.




It can be as simple as sponsoring a child in the Dominican Republic, or as big as going on a Venture trip to meet staff and players. You can even donate baseball gear or share about ILB on X (formerly Twitter).

ILB wouldn’t be where it is today without the staff members, founders, volunteers, financial contributors, and supporters who believed in a different future for boys in the Dominican Republic. To every person involved in making the dream of ILB a reality, thank you.

Special thanks to Chris McCoy and Ben Holman for starting ILB and to Andy and Michelle Robblee, Tim and JoAnn Williams, Tony and Allison Bolander, and Peninsula Bible Fellowship Church for being key investors to the new ILB field. This dream would not be possible without you.

By Makenna Dreher