North Coast February 23, 2020 | 9:40 am

From Baseball to Sosua and Back Again

With Punga Almanzar (L) and Boston Red Sox Dominican Director Javier Hernandez

Renn Loren

From interviews with Hugh Baver

 

Despite all the good fortune of what has been recounted in the past 9 Chapters of Baver’s life story, the end of October brought a colossal disappointment, which left him feeling extremely deflated and searching for perspectives and answers regarding his next steps. 

Throughout 2019 he had devoted most of his time and energies to reconvening a 2nd “Revisiting Evian” program at the Hotel Royal in Evian, France. This was the site of the infamous 1938 Évian Conference, where Baver had conducted 2 well-received and successful program events after a press conference held earlier that day at the United Nations in Geneva. the events commemorated both the 80th Anniversary of the historic meeting and WWII Historic Plaque dedication ceremony on “Kristallnacht.”

 (Kristallnacht was the November 9th, 1938 “Night of Broken Glass”) 

Remember, the only country at this conference who agreed to open their borders, increase their immigration quotas to allow the fleeing European Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler, and Nazi Germany was this country, the Dominican Republic. 

Baver selected the follow-up name of last year’s conference to be the “Evian III Student Educational Leadership Conference.” The intent was to build upon the 2018 events and focus the previous year’s 2019 theme upon “Educating the Next Generation” of World leaders. 

Baver’s idea was to bring in 32 college students from the same original 32 countries represented at the 1938 Évian Conference. These students would act as “student diplomats” to come back to Évian and utilize the historical backdrop of the original setting, actually convening them in the same Hotel Royal meeting chamber, to compare and contrast the failed framework of the 1938 Conference with contemporary immigration and refugee challenges. 

Throughout the year from January 2019 through October Baver had successfully engaged on multiple Skype calls with these students to captivate their interest in participating with students hailing from, in addition to the US, from as far away as Australia, Russia, England, Columbia, Brazil, and most European nations. 

Here is the actual invitation from 2019:

Invitation

 

Baver fell far short of his funding goal to reconvene the event in November 2019 despite garnering the committed participation of international students who were also leaders of globally respected Jewish and Human Rights organizations. He also attracted the attention of 34 corporate and individual event underwriting sponsorships from Yale University, B’Nai Brith International, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Facing History And Ourselves, and the Lantos Foundation. 

Although Baver was extremely thankful for their support, all of the above listed even being 2nd or 3rd year recurring event sponsors, there were far more disappointing “No’s” and “sorry no interest” rejections. Also, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, which possesses vast financial resources, passed on the opportunity. Ironic as Miami is the physical location nearest to Sosua and the North Coast. 

Additionally, not one entity, Jewish Foundation, or individual sponsor from all of Europe was willing to financially sponsor this “next generation” program. 

Needless to say, despite a heartfelt appeal, there were also no offers of support or financial assistance from anyone in Sosua who ironically were some of the very fortunate few whose lives were saved by the actions of the Dominican Republic at the 1938 Conference. 

The event was scheduled for November 9th, on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht, and Baver waited until the last possible moment to cancel the event. Part of this agonizing process was to make heartbreaking calls to all the students who had committed to participating, informing them of their need to cancel their travel plans to Évian. 

Not only had Baver lined up these international students, but he also secured the commitment of Elan Carr, the US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting AntiSemitism as the event keynote speaker. Additionally, there were many other notable global Educational leaders, diplomats, and US Embassy Ambassadors. 

Here are 3 of the prerecorded welcome messages which were to be played at the Opening Night Ceremony from 3 of the global US Ambassadors who could not physically attend the event but absolutely wanted to be a part of it to express their comments. This included the US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and local Santo Domingo ally, Robin Bernstein.

Katharina VonSchnurbein- Director of the European Commission 

 

Currently, the plan is to try and find program sponsors to convene an event this summer. The students and keynote speakers have re-committed to attending. Now the push is on again to find the necessary funding. Part of Baver’s strategy this year, which is already underway, is to submit for Educational Grant funding through large US and European Foundations. 

In 5 years of project fundraising for Sosua75, he has learned some valuable lessons which will hopefully serve him well in 2020. Specifically, that there are lots of “talkers” but few “Doers” and “follow through-ers.”

Remaining optimistic, Baver wishes to convey the many positive developments and experiences he has enjoyed here on the North Coast. Even though he was anything but warmly welcomed here by the Sosua Jewish community, Baver and his wife have met some incredibly warm and supportive new lifetime friends. Quoting Baver, “They have taken my wife and I into their hearts and into their homes as truly part of their family” I had heard the expression for years that “Mi casa es su casa” yet never truly understood it as I do now.” 

One of Baver’s many favorite experiences has been his commute to Sosua and back on the guagua local van transportation. If you really want to immerse yourself in the local culture, Baver insists this a must. Although often squeezed in like sardines, he has seen fellow commuters breaking out in public prayer with no objection from others, and everyone is courteous and considerate to each other, always greeting you with a smile. Every one of the locals is well dressed, stylishly groomed, and extremely respectful of others.

With too much credit to give, there are a few standouts who merit special notice in Baver’s mind for helping him and his wife to become acclimated and comfortable in their home here. 

At the top of the list is José Arismendy Gomez, believe it or not, the Godson of former dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was their first friend here in Cabarete. When the newly married couple first arrived here in November of 2018, he took them under his wing. He helped them with his extreme resourcefulness to find their footing to navigate their way around, providing them local tips and any help he could offer. 

There is also Marcus Bohm, founder of this weekend’s Master of the Ocean Tournament, always a humble and friendly face to run into at Janet’s Supermarket. And Sophie Roberts & Jose “Tiburon” from the local Energym who always make them feel comfortable and greet them with a smile and encouraging comment.

Not to forget Pastor Juan Santos Lugo in Santo Domingo. Always willing to put others before himself, picking Baver up at the Santo Domingo Metro bus station. Santos’ wife Miriam and son Hernan hosted him at his home now multiple times while connecting Baver with the local Santo Domingo radio and TV media market to help the former pro ballplayer “get the word out” regarding the fulfillment of his Sosua75, Évian, and “The Pitch” initiatives.   

Now, being far away from the bustling traffic and long commutes to the Boston area, it’s not as if there aren’t many things Baver misses from his longstanding home in the Boston/New England area. 

Number 1 on his list is the warmth and company of his adult children, grandchildren, and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast. Or driving South into Boston on Route 1 over the Tobin and Zakim Bridges, seeing the Boston City Skyline and the TD Garden sports arena, the unparalleled New England Autumn foliage with its distinctive Red Maple leaves, or even the delicious taste of Hood whole milk, his favorite brand. 

However, Baver knows these are all things he will hopefully experience again soon when the cold weather begins to break in March.

Yet Baver realizes how he can never take for granted the daily beauty of the Cabarete Beach skies blanketed in rainbow-colored kites, the sounds of the crashing ocean waves, or the irrepressible smiling faces of the Dominican people here. Though initially bothered by the constant noise of whirring motorcycles, it all now blends into the convergent landscape of the sights and sounds of his home here. 

Baver’s entire, now extended journey to the Dominican Republic started with a baseball trip to the Red Sox Academy in 2010, and currently, 10 years later, he is stationed here. What a way to mark the 10th Anniversary of his first visit to the Red Sox Academy with a return to a warm homecoming welcome at the Academy last week. 

Meeting Dominican Baseball patriarch and Red Sox Academy long-standing Director Jesus Alou (Center) and his assistant on Baver’s first visit to the Academia Medias Rojas in February of 2010

 

Here’s a supportive message from Javier Hernandez, the Red Sox Academy’s Operational Director, who was there when Baver delivered the World Baseball Classic Championship game used 1st base to then Academy Director Jesus Alou during the Red Sox 2013 Championship year. 

Complete video of pitch promotional at red sox academy

Having agreed to take over the management of “The Pitch” batting cage facility here in Sosua, Baver sees great promise in the program. He envisions Dominican baseball reunion games from retired Dominican players to be played right here at the local Sosua municipal field. Additionally, he intends the expansion of “The Pitch” program to include scouting activity and training to cultivate local talent to get them into the South Coast Dominican academies to pursue a professional baseball playing career.

THE PITCH

One of the most dynamic recent experiences here in 2020 in support of “The Pitch” Batting Cage facility program here was his January dinner invitation to Dominican and MLB shortstop legend Tony Fernandez’s home in Santo Domingo. Baver could not adequately describe in words the graciousness of Tony and his beloved wife, Clara, for their kindness. 

Both Tony and his wife Clara expressed their support for “The Pitch” program here in Sosua, even donning the Pitch baseball cap for a photo. Tony, an incredibly humble, easy-going, and warm man, Baver was extremely thankful for the opportunity to meet and sit with him.

Tragically, Tony passed away just last week from an extended illness in Florida at the young age of 57. Funeral arrangements have been made for next week, where Baver has already received a very privileged invitation to attend in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris. 

With Tony Fernandez Former Toronto BlueJays World Series Champion and Gold Glove Dominican Shortstop legend at his home in Santo Domingo in January

 

Summing up Chapter 10 and his life story in this series, Baver is exceptionally grateful for the many wonderful and supportive new friends and alliances he has formed here. His original hope in founding Sosua75.org was that through his lectures, presentations, and articles written around the world, he would raise consciousness in others of the significance of the 1938 Évian Conference and history here. 

Now, after 5 years of intensive effort and over 30 international articles published, multiple TV and radio shows aired, news of Sosua75 and the significance of the 1938 Evian Conference and attempting to recount these important historic and urgently contemporarily relevant episodes have reached over 50 million interested readers and viewers. 

At last count, Baver had received over 100 separate requests from interested tourists from around the world to share more of his knowledge of the area and hopefully leverage his “connections” here to facilitate their visit here. Despite his inability to directly help, including facilitating access to tour the Sanctuary and museum, many chose to travel here anyway, where they invested their time and tourist dollars with the Sosua hotels, restaurants, and local attractions.

He would never trade in his Évian and Santo Domingo “Gold Keys to the City.” But Baver wishes his efforts—which include co-authoring a submission to UNESCO that Sosua be formally acknowledged as a World Heritage Site—would be better recognized locally. 

Baver contends that mainly through his efforts and initiatives, explicitly reconvening the Évian 80th Anniversary event in France in 2018, he presented “on a silver platter” the opportunity for Sosua UNESCO World Heritage Site distinction. This would generate a tremendous amount of “clean” and family-friendly “Cultural” tourism to the region. 

Unfortunately, after initially submitting the UNESCO proposal in the summer of 2018, collaboration with local and governmental officials to push the project forward could not be achieved, even on such an important economically beneficial matter as this.

Part of Baver’s prevailing unrest with the local Jewish community stems from the fact that during the preceding 3 years, he has noted the physical deterioration of the last remaining properties here in town, including the original Sosua sanctuary and adjacent Jewish Museum. Sadly, Parque Mirador, which he visited just this past week, lies in neglect. Sadder still to think that in 2014 a significantly historical seaside Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony took place. Now the large Jewish Star of David white concrete monument has grass growing over it with plastic trash strewn on the lawn surrounding the memorial. 

The disrepair of exterior entrance to Sosua Sanctuary

Current photo at Parque Mirador

 

Baver will continue the fight to become more involved in Sosua community affairs to the extent they will permit him to lend the benefit of his input and experience. However, it has been over a year since he personally walked into the ADSS Office in Sosua and asked to be a member of the group. Yet, after paying his membership dues, they have had not convened even one public meeting to his knowledge, only “private” gatherings of the Board members. 

When he recontacted the group 6 months ago, he was informed a public ADSS meeting would be held “soon” where he could introduce himself, his business credentials, and intents to strategize with them to positively impact the community. Nothing has yet been communicated in over a year to Baver.

Baver contends there are so many opportunities here to help others, including the pristine example set by Ron Zauner of Providing Opportunity.org. Zauner has selflessly committed through his efforts and an 8-year progressive program to raise the standard of living for residents in the Cabarete neighborhood of Barrio Blanco. 

With Ron Zauner at entrance to Barrio Blanco in Cabarete

 

Baver and his wife have had two opportunities to contribute their minimal painting experience this past December to assist with painting the exterior of the Barrio school and the interior of one of the newly constructed residences which Zauner and his organization have facilitated. 

Hugh would like to thank so many of the unsung heroes who have been behind the scenes but have constituted an enormous part of gaining the international exposure for this program, including Walter Black, his web designer who has been a partner in his success since early 2014. 

Baver notes there were far more detractors and naysayers than supporters in those early days of the project. The most resonant words of encouragement he received came in Spanish from “Punga” Almanzar, (in the Red Sox Academy visit video promotional message above). Almanzar was Pedro Martinez’s boyhood teammate from Manoguayabo when he organized the “Future Hall of Famer’s Amateur Baseball Classic Tournament back in the summer of 2015. 

So eloquently stated by Almanzar, now a close baseball colleague who runs a small field and training facility in Manoguayabo whose field and young players Baver is actively committed to supporting delivering used baseball equipment from the Boston area. Almanzar prophetically stated, “When you have a good idea, many people will try to discredit you and tell you it is impossible and can’t be done. But I won’t give up because you need to be strong and take heart as God favors those who are bold and unafraid.” Punga incorporating Deuteronomy 31:6 

Never forgetting to retrace his steps, Baver remembers his very humble beginnings and draws inspiration from the initial opposition he received to his Sosua75 vision from the local Jewish community. Instead, he chooses to channel his energy into remembering the many organizations and groups who took a chance on his ideas, beginning with his first public appearance in 2014 at a small seaside Orthodox Jewish Synagogue in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Or the big break he received in the small NH community of Keene where he met Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, the daughter of Thomas Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the US Congress. Lantos was the founder of the Human Rights Commission at a Kristallnacht Commemoration event. He also supported the first 80th Anniversary Evian event in July of 2018 at The Hotel Royal, the original 1938 Évian Conference Site. Without these divine connections, Baver understands he would not be here today.

Briefly lamenting on the very short-lived but all-consuming professional baseball career of his early 20’s, he is deeply touched and inspired by lines from Doc Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Portrayed by the late Burt Lancaster in his favorite movie of all time, “Field of Dreams.” 

“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then, I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” And “If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes(in Baver’s case if he would have continued on his professional baseball career or taken an alternative path to where he is today) now THAT would have been a tragedy.”

Referring to his time here now at “The Pitch” and at the ballfield in Sosua, he is in complete agreement with “Moonlight” Graham: “This is my most special place in all the world. Once a place touches you like that, the wind never blows so cold again.”

How ironic it is for Baver that the Sosua baseball field sits directly across the street from the original Synagogue structure and museum. Standing behind the tire rotors of the pitching machine, Baver can see the entrance to the Synagogue grounds and the 6 sided Magen David Jewish Star on the entrance gate. A constant and subconscious reminder of why he came here. 

Always in the back of his mind and remembering the sage advice of his deceased father Howard Baver that “Patience is a Virtue,” this odyssey, begun in 2014, has been more than a Field of Dreams-like experience for Baver. It is a dream which is finally taking shape and becoming a reality. 

“If you build it, they will come,” well now it’s time to build it…

For more information on how to support this North Coast family-friendly international tourist initiative, please visit Sosua75.org and/or the “The Pitch” on Facebook and fundraiser on GlobalGiving.org

 

Next edition, making a pitch to save “The Pitch.”