According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme, 40.4% of people in the Dominican Republic are living in poverty.
For Luis Rodriguez Cruz and many other Dominican kids, baseball is more than a pastime.
It is an opportunity.
In 2012, Pitch In For Baseball & Softball received a grant request from Gladys Pena, founding member of the foundation Villa Vasquez en Linea. Based in the town of Villa Vasquez in the Dominican Republic, the organization “is built to help people of low income to solve matter(s) like health issues, shoes, clothes, etc.” and to improve children’s lives.
“Baseball is the most played recreational game in our country, it helps build character in our youth and helps to keep them out of trouble,” Gladys shared in her original grant application.
Luis, who was 10 years old at the time, was among the children who received that equipment. The donation from PIFBS included 20 baseball gloves, a catcher’s mitt, two sets of catcher’s gear, five baseballs, 16 batting helmets, six equipment bags, and 15 used bats.
Fast forward eight years.
Luis continued playing baseball, and began earning the attention of Major League teams. The Minnesota Twins took a special interest in the young shortstop. They decided to offer him a contract.
“He was one of the many children that, thanks to your donation, was out of the streets and took advantage of everything baseball can give since he was a child,” said Gladys, who is also Luis’ cousin.
Luis is the grandson of Ruben Cruz, a man who lost his vision in an accident 32 years ago and yet continues to coach young baseball players in the Dominican Republic.
Ruben was a pitcher in the Dominican Republic and Venezuelan National League. In 1998, he began working to help kids play baseball. He did this with his own money and a few donations. Sometimes they even made their own baseballs, because they could not afford to buy new ones.
His team was one of six who received donated equipment from PIFBS through Gladys, her mom Ms. Gladys Cruz, and Villa Vasquez en Linea in 2012. That donation went to three leagues total, helping about 90 kids ages 6-15, including Luis.
The foundation applied for and received a second donation from PIFBS in 2019, with hopes that baseball can serve as an inspiration for more children.
In her application, Gladys estimated that 90% of the kids show up without a glove.
“Most of our kids are in poverty and baseball is an escape for the parents and (motivation for) the kids to do good in life,” Gladys says.
“Unfortunately, because most of the parents are poor, kids can’t play with safety gear and the teachers can’t afford to buy such equipment for all of the kids, mainly because they are giving their time at no cost to teach these kids, and they have economic needs as well.”
Gladys says that her organization has sent donations to five children’s leagues in the Dominican Republic, including all of the items received from PIFBS in 2012 and 2019.
Her nephew, Jhalen, is currently attending a school for advanced baseball training and hoping to get scouted by an MLB team. Luis is now beginning to embark on a professional career, with dreams of reaching the Major Leagues.
“That one makes me very happy,” Gladys says, “because it means we made a difference on his life, and I’m confident in other kids’ lives as well.”
If you have new or lightly-used equipment that you can donate to help kids all over the world have a chance to play ball, please schedule a drop off here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.