Before we left, I wondered how Josh would compare, but knew that this was exactly the kind of experience he needed. A few weeks before the trip Josh and I talked with his Cats Coach, Chris Price, about the trip. He said something that we would keep coming back to the entire trip, "Whenever you get the chance to travel and play, especially with older guys, you need to take it. It will show you where you stack up."
How true that statement would be.
We flew from LAX to Miami on Sunday and would take a morning flight on Monday from Miami to Santo Domingo. We were scheduled to play three games while we were there - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Our games would be in the morning, while the afternoon would be spent at the Arizona Diamondbacks training facility working with their coaching staff. Thursday and Saturday were to be days off - opportunities to rest, see the sights, and do a bit of shopping.
Our first game was in the Old Stadium in the heart of Santo Domingo. This was the field where every Domincan player who has made it to the MLB has played before. So much history packed into one place. I think our guys were in a bit of culture shock as we stepped off our bus and saw hundreds of people assembled to watch us play. We gave up four runs in the bottom of the first and never recovered, losing 6-4.
Our second game was at the Diamondbacks facility and featured in a much better result - a 6-3 win, which would end up being our only win of the trip.
Our final game was played back in Santo Domingo at a neighborhood field. The humidity and heat were unbearable, as it was mid 90's and humidity to match. We face a team of professional hitters, losing 12-4. One guys on their team was being scouted by Division I schools here in the states. He hit two mammoth home runs, well over 400 feet a piece. They were some of the longest balls I have ever seen hit.
As for Josh, it was a maturing experience unlike anything I've really seen him go through. To play alongside guys two plus years older than him and against Dominican guys who were 18 years old or better [you know those Dominican ages...] forced him to step up the focus of his game. He didn't do too much at the plate, as he was pretty overmatched with the pitching, but on the mound was a different story.
Josh was scheduled as our starting pitcher for the second game. I remember Andy Berglund, our coach, asking Josh if was ready to go as a starter. "Sure, coach." Once we got to the field, we had a really short warm-up and then we were off. Josh got a short warm-up while we were batting and then off to the hill. What happened was one of those memories that he will have for the rest of his life - five innings of one hit baseball. He struck out three and walked one, leaving after five innings with a 4-0 lead. I will never forget the look he had on the mound - one of complete control. I'll never forget the look he had in between innings as he came off the field - he had a focus and an intensity that I've never seen from him before. This was his game, his moment.
As corny as it may sound, if you've ever been an athlete you'll understand. There are a few moments in life of an athlete that are watershed moments, one's that you leave different than when you entered. This was one of those moments for Josh. When he came out of the game after five innings, his confidence, his focus, his understanding of the game, and his maturity all changed. Pitching became a passion.
As we flew home from the trip, I couldn't help but be so proud of Josh - not merely for what he accomplished on the field, but for the type of person he is becoming. He grew up quite a bit on this trip - from the perspective of traveling to another country, to hanging out with upperclassman players [some of the stories are crazy], to seeing his heart for the little Dominican kids who mobbed our guys.
By way of postscript, not only does he want to go back next summer, he's already talked to a few guys about going along for the ride. So perhaps we'll make a trip of it again in 2010.
I wouldn't mind a bit.
[If you're interested in seeing some of the pics form the trip, I've made two photo albums on my Facebook page. So you can swing by there for all the visual glory of the trip!]