North Coast June 28, 2020 | 7:00 am

Grand Slam for Baver, the Pitch, and Sosúa in the DR

Melvin "Bodega" Castillo and Hugh "Hugo" Baver in front of Sosua mayor's office.

New partnerships spotlight promise of baseball being a focal point for the city’s future. Dedication ceremony in honor of Dominican and MLB great Tony Fernandez planned.

 

Renn Loren

From Conversations with Hugh Baver

Sosúa

Trying to quantify the dreams and aspirations of young baseball players here in the Dominican Republic would virtually be like counting the grains of sand on the beach. 

This country’s love for the game is both legendary and limitless, producing a disproportionate share of professional baseball players, including some of the top names in the business. The list goes on and on from Hall of Famers Juan Marchial, Pedro Martinez, to 2019 Washington Nationals World Series Champion Juan Soto. 

It was both baseball and Sosua’s rich cultural history, which initially attracted Hugh Baver, the current owner of The Pitch, to relocate here from the Boston area. But ultimately, it was his personal history and love for the game that compelled him to stay here.

Hugh, or “Hugo,” as he’s best known around town, requested a late May meeting with new Sosua Mayor-elect Wilfredo “Willy” Olivences in his municipal office. There, Baver presented the benefits of formally supporting the Pitch Batting Cage program he now owns and manages to the city and the local community.

At the meeting, Melvin “Bodega” Castillo, the Pitch day-to-day Operations Manager, Mayor-elect Olivences wholeheartedly extended the city’s formal advocacy for The Pitch program recognizing its high merits to the community youth and the prospects of it spurring additional tourism to the area.

At May 27th meeting with Sosua Mayor “Willy” Olivences from Left Melvin “Bodega” Castillo, Mayor Olivences, Hugh Baver, Bodega’s brother Nicolas.

 

General Support Letter written by Mayor Olivences.

 

In addition to the 2019 Dominican Little League Champions training at the Sosua, baseball field practicing their swings at the Pitch, the wife and family of MLB World Series Champion, All-Star, and Gold Glove recipient Tony Fernandez permitted Baver to name The Pitch in honor and memory of the legendary player. Both of these facts helped to bolster Baver’s case with the Mayor. 

Fernandez, also known by his nickname of “Cabeza” tragically passed in March from medical complications at the young age of 57.

Widely known for both his inspiring play on the field and always being the model of humility, after his retirement, Tony was duly recognized for his outstanding works of charity and giving back to baseball and his home community of San Pedro de Macoris.

In a separate private letter issued to the Fernandez family, Mayor Olivences expressed his support of the plan and most profound respect for Tony agreeing to co-host a dedication ceremony at the Sosua baseball field in late July or early August. 

Showcasing the reopening of Dominican baseball here and coronavirus limitations permitting, the event will feature keynote speeches and testimonies to Tony Fernandez given by other prominent baseball and Dominican leaders.

In December of 2019, Baver was introduced to Tony and his wife Clara by a mutual friend Pastor Juan Santos Lugo of Las Palmares Church in Santo Domingo.` Embracing the immense privilege of being in Tony’s presence to talk baseball and then sitting at the same table for dinner at the Fernandez home was the thrill of Baver’s lifetime.Tony and Clara so kindly welcomed me as a respected guest into their lovely home and made me feel extremely comfortable.”

On that occasion, he presented Tony and his wife Clara with a souvenir Pitch ball cap.

Tony Fernandez with wife Clara wearing the Pitch cap at their Santo Domingo home with Hugh Baver.

 

“Little did I or anyone know during those moments shared at his home that Tony would no longer be here with us within a few short weeks,” said Baver. After meeting Tony for this single time after his untimely death, Tony’s wife Clara reached out and asked him to recite the ancient Hebrew prayer of mourning or “Kaddish” at his funeral. Fernandez was laid to rest in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris at Estadio Tetelo Vargas in March of this year.

The stadium is the home of the Estrellas Orientales (Stars of the East) of the Dominican Winter Professional Baseball League (LIDOM), where Tony Fernandez grew up in a small home in an impoverished neighborhood just behind the right center field wall. Using a discarded milk carton as his first glove, Tony would slowly work his way onto the field to hone his baseball skills and become one of the greatest MLB shortstops.

 

At February 26th funeral of Tony Fernandez in Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris. Officiated by Rodolfo Espinal in attendance were Toronto Blue Jays World Series Champion teammates George Bell, Jessie Barfield, other MLB shortstop greats and friends Mariano Duncan, Alfredo Griffin, DR Minister of Sports Soterio Ramirez and many others.

 

In a statement issued last week by Tony’s son Jonathan:On behalf of our family we are proud to have our father’s name honored in a Dedication Ceremony at the Sosua ball field. We hope that young players will remember Tony and the legacy of goodwill his life represented both on and off the field.”

Baseball great Tony Fernandez

 

“Having collected his baseball cards for years, the more I learned about Tony’s life, the more I realized how significant a life beyond baseball he led. It’s important that everyone here who knows about the inspiring life and career of Tony Fernandez be generous with their time and support during the next month. We in Sosua have been entrusted with a tremendous honor, so we all must make it representative of our city’s pride and one befitting the legacy of this great man,” said Baver.

New Partnerships 

Other continuing positive developments since the May meeting with Mayor Olivences has been the establishment of new collaborative and symbiotic partnerships with 6 US and Dominican based Non-Profit and educationally focused organizations:

Sharing collective organizational missions with The Pitch, they all have pledged their support to keep the Sosua community program alive. At the heart of their joint commitment is involvement around youth development through Education, Health, Sports, and Cultural exposure.

Humbled by bringing together these highly respected organizations and outstanding leaders of the Business, Sports, Education, and Non-Profit communities, these organizations are role models of givingby their actions and not merely their words. Not only is this a great opportunity to promote each other’s worthy programs, but this is also a tremendous win all around for the city of Sosua,” Baver commented.

The four pillars of the Pitch program are:  

  1. Baseball Training and Skill Development 
  2. Distribution of used baseball equipment coming from Northeastern US communities 
  3. Personal & Professional Vocational Mentorship 
  4. Education, explicitly teaching English as a 2nd language.

Devoting a significant amount of time and energy to this country, Baver is a former Division I NCAA collegiate and professional baseball player. In 2013 he donated the game used 1st Base from the World Baseball Classic Championship game to the Boston Red Sox Academy in El Toro and the entire country.

He also was the organizer of the July 2018 Évian Conference 80th Anniversary Commemoration at the Hotel Royal in Évian France, where he was given the Gold Key to the City and Distinguished Citizen Award by the Évian Mayor’s Office. Stemming from that Conference, Baver was the co-sponsor of initiating a proposal to have Sosua recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In April of 2019, Baver was invited to be one of the keynote speakers at the “March of Life” Holocaust Commemoration rally in Santo Domingo, where 3000 supporters attended and paraded from the Juan Baron Plaza down the Malecon. 

Baver spoke of the Dominican Republic’s pivotal role in Évian France in 1938, where the only nation invited to the Conference, which agreed to open their doors as a safe haven for up to 100,000 displaced Jewish refugees fleeing from European Nazi persecution was the Dominican Republic. Those refugees came to Sosua.

Future potential The Pitch project and plans now under consideration include the construction of a protective overhead roof for rainy days, a pitching mound built to MLB specifications, incorporating regularly-scheduled and dedicated time for girls and women’s softball, and the production of a professional film documentary proposed back in March by the Executive Director of a major film studio based in Santiago.

With the ultimate goal of growing The Pitch into an “all-purpose” training facility for both batting and pitching instruction, another vital facet of Baver’s dedicated work is leveraging relationships established since 2013 with the largest Dominican communities in the Northeastern US; Boston, Lawrence, MA, Providence RI and Washington Heights in NYC. In 2015, Baver directed a successful International amateur baseball tournament from these same cities. He hopes to repeat the experience by hosting teams here in Sosua.

One of the newly formed partnerships Baver is most excited about is with Sosua based Educational institution Instituto Intercultural del Caribe. Earlier this week IIC Director Tanja Holzer issued the following statement: 

So the boys need to work hard both on the ball field and in the classroom to be successful. We from IIC like to encourage them to give their best. Therefore, IIC will not only provide English classes twice a week on the field but additionally sponsor one of the talents with a year-long scholarship for studying English at our language school in Sosua.

Relating to the future of this city The Pitch can also bring change and new opportunities for tourism to Sosua via attracting a new, financially potent group of travelers who come to discover what Sosua and the Dominican Republic really stand for: a rich culture with a unique history and great sports possibilities, in addition to the beautiful beaches and splendid nature we all love so much. This is the essence of sustainable tourism, this is the future IIC, and The Pitch pursues in the interests of the local community, each in its own way, and we from IIC are proud and honored to be a part of it.” 

Baver wholeheartedly agrees.

Summarizing his journey, “The road to a dream coming true for others and yourself is a long and bumpy one, but in time, with patience, and with the fortune of finding the right supportive partners, it absolutely can be achieved.”

Bodega and Baver at The Pitch batting cages

 

To help support this cause, please consider making a US tax-deductible contribution to “The Pitch” at:

GlobalGiving The Pitch Donation Site 

To view continuing developments of the progress being made on this project, please visit The Pitch Facebook page Maquina de Batear 

Watch for Dominican Today’s upcoming updates on this project.