And now some happy news about an act of good Christian charity by a young man from Anaheim Hills. From the Orange County Register (my apologies to OCR for lifting nearly the entire article):
Teenager thinks outside the batter’s box
O.C. student collects, cleans and donates baseball equipment to deliver to Nicaraguan children.
John-Paul Velasquez slides through photos on his iPad from his afternoons playing baseball with other children during his November trip to his mother’s homeland, Nicaragua.
Their field was a dirt lot, their makeshift bases marked by rocks or discarded cardboard. This was their diamond in the rough.
John-Paul, 14, an incoming freshman at Orange Lutheran, had brought his newest teammates new and used baseball equipment he had collected in Orange County.
He and his friends from Calvary Christian school, his Santa Ana Little League and Pony League teams and travel ball had little use for the gloves, bats, batting helmets and cleats they had outgrown.
But in poverty-stricken villages of Nicaragua, these donated goods had second, more valuable life. They saved baseball for children who had been making due with whatever equipment their cab driver/volunteer coach brought to games in a small satchel.
The children had been using a metal bat with no grip, one batting helmet with no padding and a few dirty, well-worn baseballs. Some players used their caps to catch fly balls while infielders waited their turn to sink their hands into beat-up gloves with torn leather, broken stitching, patched webbing and padding poking out of the sides.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw because it’s so different than what we have plenty of at home,” remembered John-Paul. “When they got the equipment, they were so happy. They love playing baseball just as much as I do.”
John-Paul and his sister, Alexa, 11, saw how a first baseman played defense in his new batting helmet – “because he didn’t want to take it off,” Alexa recalled. They saw how the catcher, suited up for the first time in a chest protector, mask and shin guards, happily forfeited his at-bats to stay in his gear.
This November trip was the first for John-Paul’s Nicaragua Baseball Project, his personal mission to bring the game to the children to need equipment to play it.
The Orange County baseball community has already shown its support. John-Paul’s Santa Ana Pony League and his former school, Calvary Christian, collected equipment donations.
Calvary Christian parents Teresa and Garret Anderson, the former Angels All-Star slugger, pitched in nearly $2,000 of new youth equipment for the trip. Angels chairman Dennis Kuhl met John-Paul this season and pledged future support of the Angels Baseball Foundation.
Upon learning about the project, Calvary Christian parent Jeff McKee, whose family owns Fullerton-based Trinity Bat Co., made nine bats and took to Twitter to solicit equipment contributions and become a donation site.
“I never thought it would get this big,” said John-Paul, whose family is planning its next trip to Nicaragua and delivery for April. “It was an idea that God put in my heart after I saw how much the kids in Nicaragua didn’t have.”
He had taken a trip to Nicaragua with his family when he was 8. He saw children his age and younger walking the streets without parents, wearing soiled and tattered clothes and too-small shoes, selling cell phone car chargers and candies and washing windshields for pocket change.
Those images stuck with him long after he returned home to Anaheim Hills. He attended private school and played second base and shortstop on his baseball teams. He saw his garage shelves piled with the gloves, bats, cleats and uniforms he used in Little League and never since.
He realized how privileged he is, never having to go without, never having to share a glove or make due with tight sneakers. It would take a Nicaraguan family a month to earn the money to buy the $250 pro-model custom Wilson glove he uses to try out for his Orange Lutheran high school team.
“For a 14-year-old kid to recognize this and do something about it is pretty special,” said McKee, whose Trinity Bat Co. is working with the Velasquez family to develop the Nicaragua Baseball Project as a non-profit.
Pat and Pablo Velasquez, who own Advance Realty in Santa Ana, have always wanted their children to understand how fortunate they are by seeing the countries from which their parents came.
Pat Velasquez, 47, grew up in Nicaragua surrounded by poverty. Her family fled the country for political asylum in America after her brother was kidnapped for opposing communism. She didn’t return to her homeland for 16 years.
Pablo Velasquez, 58, was born in Mexico. His family moved to northern California when he was 3. His father worked as a farmer while his mother stayed home to raise Pablo and his six siblings who made a college education their ladders to opportunity.
A few years ago, the Velasquez family and Pat’s sister, Marcia Cueva, visited and brought clothing donations to a Tijuana orphanage so John-Paul and Alexa could be exposed to another world. Those children shared clothing, bedrooms, toys, everything.
“My kids don’t have the challenges I had,” said Pablo Velasquez, who still remembers taking the Greyhound bus from outside Sacramento to watch the San Francisco Giants play at Candlestick Park as a teen-ager.
“We want them to know that we live in a fishbowl where everything is nice and plenty but it’s not like most of the world.”
Having this awareness drives John-Paul and Alexa in this project. They’ve taken to social media (@NicaraguaBP on Twitter and Nicaragua_Baseball_Project on Instagram) to spread the word about their efforts. They collect the equipment and spend several hours a week sorting and preparing the gear, cleaning marks off bats with rubbing alcohol and baby wipes and reconditioning gloves with shaving cream.
“I want to make sure it looks nice when they get it,” said Alexa, who plays softball. “I can’t wait to give it to them.”
John-Paul estimates that he has enough equipment for three full teams and hopes to bring even more on his next trip to distant villages two hours outside the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
“That’s where we can really help the most,” said John-Paul, driven to do more at the sight of each photo of smiling ballplayers in Nicaragua.
John-Paul Velasquez’s mother Pat is also a former member of the Anaheim Planning Commission, to which she was appoint by former Mayor Curt Pringle.