Ingrid Rodriguez knew she wouldn’t be comfortable until all the kids reached their host families or their hotel rooms.
It has been a chaotic year for teams from Puerto Rico participating in the McHenry County Youth Sports Association’s Summer International Championships, which begin Friday. After Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island in September, many of the teams committed to the 2018 MCYSA tournament didn’t know if they could make the trip.
Rodriguez helped organize the trip for three teams from ESCA Baseball School based in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Rodriguez planned trips to the MCYSA tournament before, but never one quite like this.
“We really wanted to go since we were planning it [before] the hurricane came,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a way to say that it doesn’t matter what happens. We can still do things even if we have to sacrifice. It’s a good lesson for the kids.”
ESCA is sending 36 kids to the tournament. The club had to do a lot of extra fundraising this year and still was raising money only days before the tournament.
Ted Groat, who is the MCYSA’s coordinator for international teams, said the MCYSA fell short in its initial goal set last winter to raise $54,000 for the Puerto Rican teams. Even so, he has seen the McHenry County community step up in many ways.
“In some way, everybody can relate to the hardship that they’ve experienced,” Groat said. “I’m quick to remind people when they go a day or two without electricity that there’s still some people in Puerto Rico that haven’t had their electricity restored.”
Groat said 101 total international players are staying with local families through the homestay program.
“To the best of my knowledge, if we’ve ever had numbers like that, it was a long, long time ago,” Groat said.
The Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake offered reduced rates for families affected by Hurricane Maria. Lake in the Hills resident Stewart McVicar hosted an event in his Cubs-themed basement, nicknamed Club 400, during which Cubs star Javy Baez made a guest appearance. That night alone raised about $3,500 for the cause.
ESCA primarily fundraises for the trip through the money it makes at its concession stand. After the hurricane, cleaning up baseball fields was not a top priority. The field by Rodriguez’s home was littered with glass from the broken lights.
ESCA and many Puerto Rican teams missed out on valuable fundraising time while they waited for their fields to be cleaned up.
Many families have had to cut back. Some are sending only one parent to the tournament, as opposed to the whole family. Rodriguez said the younger ESCA teams have only nine players because some of the other team members couldn’t afford to make the trip.
Another Puerto Rican team, PR Maceteros, used to benefit from donations from local businesses. Yoly Cubero, who organizes the trip for PR Maceteros and other teams in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, said businesses in Puerto Rico couldn’t afford to donate this year.
“A lot of companies have had to close,” Cubero said. “It’s really hard. Parents have had to work double to get their kids uniforms. A lot of companies are not donating their uniforms.”
Cubero said some malls in Puerto Rico still remain closed. That loss trickles across the economy, even down to youth baseball teams.
Cubero has been working with the MCYSA tournament for 11 years. Her son, Jose Cubero, is now 23 and still plays baseball in his free time.
“Here in Puerto Rico, baseball is like an escape for the kids,” Cubero said. “It’s all year round. These parents come out of work tired. They pick up their kids and they head straight to the park.”
Many of the parks didn’t open until January, and tournaments didn’t begin until March, two months later than usual. As with ESCA, concessions stands are a huge fundraiser for PR Maceteros.
PR Maceteros’ manager, Luis Alvarado, brought the first Puerto Rican team to the MCYSA tournament – then known as Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series – in 1998 and has been back many times. He introduced Cubero to the tournament, and she has kept organizing trips to McHenry County, even after her son stopped playing in the tournament.
For all involved, it was important for Puerto Rico to be represented at the MCYSA tournament.
“It’s been very hard this year,” Rodriguez said. “But they’re good parents, and they’ve made a lot of sacrifices.”
While the MCYSA tournament begins Friday and fundraising efforts for the Puerto Rican teams have been completed, the MCYSA is still looking for help to send approximately 240 international players and coaches to the Cubs game on Tuesday at Wrigley Field as part of its annual outing.
Donations can be made online through Paypal or by reaching out to Ted Groat at firstname.lastname@example.org.