La Vega, Dominican Republic, is not to be confused with Las Vegas, Nevada, although their names mean the same, and both cities grew because of money. Christopher Columbus built a fort near La Vega in 1494 and explorers discovered gold a few years later. 500 years forward, there's still a European feel to the city.
But the gold Dominicans seek in the 21st century comes not from Columbus' mines, but from an American game.
Baseball is huge in the Dominican Republic. Guys like Julio Borbon who played for the University of Tennessee played on the same gravely, rocky fields, sometimes with no shoes, sometimes with no equipment but a heart for the game."
Edgard Mckenzie is a Dominican native who said the game is intertwined with the country's culture.
"In the Dominican," said Mckenzie, "baseball means a way of life. People think that if they know baseball, or can practice baseball, they can go to the states and that is their dream come true."
Edgard and his wife Claudia work with One Vision. They see fields full of children with dreams of the big leagues. A few of them get a real opportunity.
On the day a group of volunteers from Sevier Heights Baptist Church arrived, a sweet-swinging teenager was working with an adult. It turns out a major league scout has watched Lionedi Cuello play and has shown some interest. His coach, Miguel Almonte has seen a few of his pupils get a chance:
Through a translator, Miguel said, "For the Dominican kids, it is part of their life, because when the Dominican kids are born, they are born playing baseball."
That dream pushes the kids in a poor neighborhood to practice on rocky, uneven fields in their socks, or in donated crocs, or most often, with no shoes at all. There are several who can handle a bat. You don't have a problem getting Dominican kids to follow through on their swings. But can they follow through on their dreams? One Vision thinks they can, with the right kind of assistance:
"Baseball is a great thing to use to create a crowd of kids to come and as we are able to build relationships with the kids," said Sevier Heights Minister to Families Carl Smith. "We are then able to get to know their families and as a result be able to reach out to their families not only with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but again with hope for living and education and being able to help them in many other ways."
It is that change and not just a game of baseball that motivates One Vision International, the 16 volunteers from Sevier Heights Baptist Church and a woman named Matilda Santiago Herrera, who saw a need for education and hope to help the children of her neighborhood have a better life. You'll be amazed at what this strong woman has done in dire circumstances with virtually no resources before One Vision came along.