HAITI – In 2010, a devastating earthquake affected millions of Haitians. Makeshift “tent cities” formed out of the rubble of Port-au-Prince. The vulnerable children living in these areas succumbed to begging, suffered violence, and quickly became malnourished. Out of this darkness came an idea to help these children regain their health and bring much needed joy back into their lives through the simple game of baseball.
With other sports requiring stamina and energy that the children didn’t possess due to lack of nutrition, baseball was the perfect fit. Two American relief workers, Bryn Mooser and Operation Blessing’s David Darg, began working with these children and introducing the game.
As time progressed, the love for the game grew as more and more boys became interested in the new sport. From there, Haiti’s first little league team, the Tabarre Tigers, was formed, soon followed by the Tabarre Ti Crabs. With the formation of the two teams, the players enjoyed friendly games against each other. The teams were given baseballs, gloves, and bats. As word spread, visitors brought more equipment and uniforms. In 2011, the captain of the Tabarre Tigers, Joseph Alvyns, even received the amazing honor of throwing the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jay’s game.
Since then, Operation Blessing International has stepped in to expand the Tabarre Tigers program and provide greater structure. Since 2015, the teams have been coached by Luis Ventura Vega, who holds a Master’s in Physical Education and Community Sports. With his involvement, they have risen to a new level of professionalism and discipline. In 2017, a junior team for 8 to 12 year olds was created to give younger children a chance to play. The program is currently training 50 boys, ages 8 to 20, three times per week, many of whom have been a part of the program since 2011.
After each practice session, all participants receive a nutritious meal, typically including vegetables, coconut, and a protein such as chicken, as well as plenty of water, electrolytes, and juice.
The baseball program has expanded its reach to not only teach the boys about the sport, but also about pressing issues in Haiti like the importance of recycling and healthy living. Trash disposal in Haiti is an unsolved problem with the majority of waste ending up in the ocean.
Through the baseball program, the boys are learning the importance of proper trash disposal and recycling. They clean up any trash previously left on the field and throw away their own. The boys help to separate the materials gathered, and Operation Blessing Haiti then delivers the plastic and aluminum to a local recycling plant.
Additionally, a health curriculum from Caris Foundation was implemented during the 2017-2018 school year. This curriculum teaches the boys about healthy eating habits, the importance of proper hygiene, mental health, the dangers of mosquitoes and parasites, and other relevant topics.
Educating the players about their home country is an important aspect of the baseball program. Many Haitian young people never have the opportunity to visit different areas of their nation and learn their history. The team visited numerous historical sights, as well as areas of natural beauty, and even tried horseback riding.
In 2017 the Tigers saw their busiest and most fruitful year to date. With Coach Ventura guiding them, the boys were more organized and followed a regimented training program, producing strength and precision in their technique.
With the game of baseball growing in Haiti, the boys now have two additional teams to play against. OB Haiti organized the first tournament for the four teams, with a total of 80 participants. Four referees from Cuba called the game. Visitors who were interested in starting more teams attended the event. And not surprisingly, the Tabarre Tigers took first place!
Many of the boys have a growing hope and goal to one day earn a school scholarship to continue onto higher education through playing baseball. Some even dream of playing professionally. As the momentum keeps building, more and more opportunities are forming for young boys to learn discipline, have regular physical activity, eat nutritious meals, and gain valuable and necessary life skills through the Operation Blessing baseball program.