Visiting ball players share culture, love of sport with hosts
July 7, 2008
They come from different backgrounds and observe different customs, but teenagers visiting Fort Drum last week had at least one thing in common with their North Country hosts: a love of baseball.
"They raised the money themselves, picked up pennies off the ground, nickels, dimes, whatever they could find - that's how they got here," said Eric Caraballo, owner and coach of a baseball team from Puerto Rico that visited post June 12.
Caraballo brought 21 boys, ages 15 to 17, along with chaperones and family members, to spend 12 days in the North Country playing baseball against local teams.
Many of the boys do not have parents, and Caraballo encourages them to get involved with sports to keep them busy. They have to earn good grades to stay on the team - no less than a 3.0 - and he tries to help them stay on the right track in life, mentally, physically and spiritually.
They found out about this area from Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Rivera, coach of the All Army Softball Team and a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Mountain Division (LI), who travels to speak to minority groups and high school students about the Army and character traits such as discipline, hard work, teamwork and spiritual readiness.
Rivera had traveled to Puerto Rico with some major league baseball players to hold clinics for youth. He met Caraballo, and they eventually decided to bring the players here for baseball and interaction.
"It's a friendly exchange," Caraballo said. "We want people to know how our culture is, and we want to know how your culture is. It's something really special. The youth don't necessarily understand each other's language, but they're speaking and having fun together."
"You can't put a price on human relationship," Rivera added. "The (youths) have been eating this up - French, English, Spanish (teenagers) all laughing, having a good time, talking trash to each other on the field."
Many of the visitors also stayed with local families, providing a chance to interact and learn more about each other's culture and language.
Kelly Fish and her husband and sons hosted some of the guests.
"It was wonderful to meet people of a different culture," she said. "They were so friendly and easy to talk to. The boys talked about the typical 16-year-old boy things: girls, (Play Station 2), Guitar Hero. They even asked if they could come stay with us again sometime. It was a really good experience."
Zachary Fish, 19, enjoyed meeting the visiting team members.
"I liked to see how they interacted. They were very excited to be here," he said.
Roberto Clemente Jr., 15-year-old grandson of Puerto Rico's famous baseball star Roberto Clemente, is part of the team. Clemente said he feels comfortable being here.
"I'm having a great time," he said through an interpreter. "I like to hear people speaking English, and I have learned a little bit."
While on post, the players met Soldiers, took photographs and even went for an early-morning run with Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Parham, division rear command sergeant major.
Off post, they played baseball against teams made up of players from throughout the North Country as well as Ottawa, Canada.
Teams participated in the Joshua Cavalet tournament, named for a 13-year-old baseball player who died five years ago in a four-wheeler accident.
His parents were on site during the tournament to see games played in tribute to their son.
"This is a great honor," said Kevin Cavalet. "They do this every year, and through this, they will always remember him."
Both Caraballo and Rivera see what they do as a calling, and every youth they come across is part of that.
"I'm a cancer survivor," Caraballo said. "These youths didn't let me go. God gave me a purpose, and this is it."
"Baseball is a life lesson," Rivera said. "You have to be disciplined, committed, pass racial lines, have passion in all they do. How they learn to act on the field is how they will be in everyday life.
"They are our future, and we have to invest in our future," he added. "That is what we're doing."