Baseball is important in Puerto Rico. For more than a century, baseball has brought communities together, encouraged young people, and created heroes for the Island.
Hurricane Maria damaged community baseball spaces across Puerto Rico, but now a new initiative has arisen to rebuild ball fields. “Play Ball Again” is the name of the project, launched by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation provide leadership and capital for local community projects that help families and communities across the nation.
“Play Ball Again” has funding from Marc Anthony, the Maestro Cares Foundation, musician Bad Bunny’s Good Bunny foundation, Chicago Cubs star Javier Báez, Cubs Charities, and UNICEF USA. Kohler Company is donating fixtures for bathrooms on the fields.
The plan is to rebuild as many as 300 Little League fields destroyed in the 2017 hurricane season. The initial funding is expected to cover the first $300,000 of what may be a $1.6 million project. Vega Baja, Carolina, Yabucoa, Yauco, Utuado, Loíza, Caguas, and Casteñer are the communities in the first wave of rebuilding.
Beyond the game
Marc Anthony, who is the co-founder of the Maestro Cares Foundation, explains that the impact will go beyond the game. “Baseball isn’t just a game in this context,” he said. “It helps young people do better in school and improves family life and health in difficult circumstances.”
UNICEF agrees. “At UNICEF, we believe that play is the right of every child, and sport is a powerful tool that can build community and bring people together,” said Caryl M. Stern, president & CEO of UNICEF USA.
Several organizations have helped rebuild Puerto Rico’s baseball fields and provide related resources. In June, a delegation from Caribbean Educational and Baseball Foundation (CEBF) visited youth fields and facilities in Puerto Rico that were heavily damaged during Hurricane Maria. CEBF was hosted by former Major League Baseball slugger Carlos Delgado and his nonprofit organization Extra Bases Foundation.
CEBF donated baseball gear to and visited with local youth players, and also enjoyed learning about local needs and priorities from baseball legend Sandy Alomar, Sr.
Last year, Pitch In For Baseball & Softball, Little League International, Wilson Sporting Goods, Easton Sporting Goods, Franklin, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Deportes Salvador Colom put together baseball gear packages for the more than 10,000 Little League members in Puerto Rico whose ball clubs had been disrupted by the hurricanes. With the rebuilding of the fields, baseball can once again take its rightful place in the lives of Puerto Rico communities.
Local groups like Little League Puerto Rico have also worked hard to get Puerto Rico’s baseball fields into the condition they were in before the 2017 hurricanes, as have disaster relief organizations like All Hands and Hearts.
“After the storms, we were the forgotten, rural towns,” said Rafael Surillo Ruiz, mayor of Yabucoa, who teared up as he spoke about the future of local fields. “To have an icon of a park being built by the community, for the community, and supported by all these stakeholders—it means so much for the spirit of our city.”
LISC expects most of the field renovations will be completed in time for the 2020 baseball season.