DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- If you live in the Dominican Republic, you learn what baseball is.
If you play on the Maranatha Baseball Team, you learn what it is to minister through the sport.
You will have the chance to take the game and the gospel to the land where baseball is king. It's what Coach Gary Garrison and the team have been doing once every four years. Taking the trip is Garrison's way of making sure every man that comes through the program will have a chance to use baseball to connect with people with the end goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So just as playing the sport is a favorite pastime for the average Dominican boy, using baseball as a ministry tool is a favorite pastime for Coach Garrison and the team.
The 2019 Sabercats baseball team took baseball to the Dominican Republic over spring break, and the trip was a chance to lead and connect for Coach Garrison and for the rest of the squad.
Speaking Their Language
The national language is technically Spanish, and many speak English. But everyone "speaks" baseball.
"For many of them, it's daily life," Garrison said. "I don't know how to put it into words what [baseball] means to the average Dominican boy."
Soccer in Brazil, hockey in Canada, and baseball in the Dominican Republic. It's almost a national identity. Ask any kid on the street and they will play their country's game.
So taking baseball there just makes sense.
Garrison and the Sabercats set up clinics in "stations" format where some 60 local children came out to learn from the American Coaches. And as always, the most important station was where the children were introduced to Jesus Christ by way of a gospel lesson from a local pastor.
"Baseball gives us a platform," said Garrison. "It's a platform to do what we really came to do, and that's to present Christ."
"They're good at baseball - they're just skilled," said Dillon Smith, the other team captain this year. "They are ready to engage and work hard. But as energetic as they are, they listen up when it's time to listen."
Smith and Clint Matheis - the other team captain this year - had multiple takeaways from the trip that impacted them in terms of leadership - lessons learned when they didn't have some basic comforts of the states.
"After you play baseball for six hours in the hot sun and come home to just a garden hose with just a dribble of cold water to take a shower, it gets a little irritating," Smith said with a smile. "[It was important] for me to remember not to let the little irritations on the trip get to me and just remember what we were really doing and to keep that attitude."
For Matheis, the biggest lessons came from observing the members of the local church that helped the team with the clinics. Each one of these Dominican nationals was eager to serve the team, helping in any way they could.
"Every time I come back, I realize how I miss opportunities to serve others," said Matheis, who has visited the D.R. for the same purpose before. "When you're down there, people serve you so much, you're just floored. So that's the biggest thing: how can I show Christ in my service to other people?"
"These people are extremely passionate about their relationship with God," Smith added. "And being a ministry to other people. And that's a huge challenge to me - maintaining that attitude and focus just like those people."
Advice from the Captains
"Just go serve somebody if you get the chance," Smith said. "It sounds so cliche but it's the truth. And expect to be served in return."
"If you can take a mission trip, totally do it," added Matheis. "If you let Christ work through you and you get served, you just come back with more understanding of what you have in Christ - we serve the same God in America, in the Dominican Republic, or wherever you go. We serve the same God wherever we're at."
Back in the states, the Sabercats are more than halfway done with their season. But after the trip to the land of baseball, each member of the team is sure to see the game they love with a new, eternal perspective.