By: RANDALL MOSSMAN
Students probably walk right past Steve Giegerich when they stroll through Wiekamp Hall. But few know the work he does when he’s not sitting behind the Campus Bible Fellowship table.
In the summer of 2015, Giegerich was part of a group of 30-40 volunteers, called Playball, who traveled to the Dominican Republic, where they taught children the fundamentals of baseball, while also mixing in some lessons on faith.
This summer, Giegerich is planning on going back, and he’s hoping to take both of his sons with him.
Giegerich attributes his willingness to help others to his faith. “Jesus has changed me to live for others rather than myself,” Giegerich said. “I probably would not go on Playball if Jesus had not changed my life first.”
To prepare for his work, Giegerich, who is a part-time student, has taken five Spanish classes. He also spent a large period of time trying to master what he would be teaching his students.
He spoke of an instructional DVD made by former professional baseball player Brent Casteel, who also accompanied the volunteers in the Dominican Republic.
“I watched it every day for two weeks,” Giegerich said.
Much of the work is setup by churches in the Dominican Republic. They run the camps, as well as provide the accommodations, interpreters and most of the equipment that the camps will use. “They feed us well,” Giegerich said.
The camps are stationed in three cities, with two clinics per city. “One church sponsors the morning session, and the other sponsors the afternoon session,” Giegerich said.
There is a coaching staff, made up of the volunteers, assigned to each camp. Each camp runs two sessions a day, for five days. The camps are made up of five different stations that the boys rotate through—infield, outfield, running, batting and gospel.
Giegerich said the clinics are popular, as he estimates his camp receives around 200 boys a day, and that the overall draw of the five-day clinic is over 3,000 boys.
These camps typically attract boys in the 9-12 age range, but don’t let their young age fool you, Giegerich said. They’ve got game.
“They threw so hard last summer that I had to relace my glove,” he said. “They were throwing rockets and bullets at me.”
Baseball is overwhelmingly the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic. Giegerich pointed to the fact that most major league teams today have at least one Dominican player on their roster.
By spending time in the Dominican Republic, Giegerich has seen first-hand how these players are blossoming into major leaguers. He described baseball schools, aimed at older teenagers, where boys will spend hours fine-tuning their game, just hoping for a shot at the majors.
“They’re on the ballfield almost all day,” Giegerich said. The coaches also have a much more direct connection with major league scouts. If a prospect is looking good, one phone call can have a major league scout down there in a hurry.
Despite the love of baseball, many children in the Dominican Republic still lack a fair amount of decent equipment. Giegerich said that many of the boys’ gloves are in bad shape. Several kids would use shoestrings to hold their gloves together. While Giegerich personally re-laces and refurbishes some gloves for the kids, there’s always the need for more. He encourages everyone to donate any used gloves and apparel in fair condition.
“People have old baseball gloves sitting in boxes in their garages. To some of those kids, that would be a brand new glove,” Giegerich said.
For students who wish to donate, a box will be placed on the campus bible fellowship table in Wiekamp Hall. The items most in need are gloves, hats, and medium-sized t-shirts with major league and college insignias.
Even though the camp serves thousands of children in just a few days, there’s always a greater need for more.
“The day we would leave, some of the kids would go to the ball diamond, hoping we would show up. It breaks my heart,” Giegerich said.
For those interested in more information, go to www.bmmplayball.org.