Quaker Valley athlete's trip to Dominican Republic spurs drive for sports equipment
It was the field of dreams — with sugarcane instead of corn.
That's how Quaker Valley High School sophomore John Medich described his thoughts when he saw a baseball diamond carved out of a sugarcane field in the Dominican Republic.
John, 15, son of Gretchen and David Medich of Edgeworth, traveled to the Juan Dolio area in August last year with 14 middle school and high school baseball players from the Pittsburgh area through Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an international, nonprofit Christian sports ministry based in Kansas City, Mo.
United States Air Force Lt. Col. William Nixon of Darlington and a Western Pennsylvania Fellowship of Christian Athletes board member, organized and led the trip. He has traveled to the Dominican Republic several times with the Atlanta Fellowship group and assembled a group from Pittsburgh this year.
While there, the local group played baseball against the middle school and high school Dominican teams; held a baseball clinic; preached God's word and prayed with the Dominicans and spectators; and traveled to orphanages and villages to interact with children from preschool through high school ages.
When John returned home, he realized he wanted to help more.
As part of his personal project for school, he is collecting new or gently used baseball equipment and sports clothing, hats and helmets of all sizes through the end of February to be sent to the country for the children. Financial contributions are needed to ship the items.
He said he was affected by the people there, whose lives “can be described only as a struggle, but they are happy.”
When the group's bus pulled into the village the first day, John said he was surprised to see young children — most wearing just underwear or a pair of shorts and a few wearing shoes — who seemed to just appear out of the sugarcane and run alongside the vehicle.
When the boys got off the bus, the children grabbed their legs and jumped onto their backs to get piggy-back rides. After the boys figured out that the Spanish word the children were shouting meant “run,” they ran with the children around the baseball field.
John said the field was covered in chicken and goat feces, but the children still ran around with “such joy and innocence.”
During the trip, the group toured the Pirates Dominican Academy, the Pittsburgh Pirates Latin American headquarters and baseball training complex, and saw a game played by the Pirates Academy team.
John said there is a passion for baseball there that is hard to find in the United States.
“Every MLB team has an academy in the Dominican. Baseball is a way off the island. If a kid can get into an academy around age 16, they have a chance to make their way into professional baseball in the U.S
“They wake up in the morning and are at a baseball field until the sun goes down.”
Because of his experiences, John said he was reminded to be grateful for all the “wonderful gifts” he has been given from God.
“The opportunity to serve less fortunate kids through baseball was a perfect chance for John to challenge his principles while pursuing his passion,” his father said.
“That he came away from the experience a more mature young man is evident by his efforts now to improve the lives of as many young Dominicans as possible. We could not be more proud of him.”
John, a member of Quaker Valley golf team, basketball team, and baseball team, is a Serbian Orthodox Christian and attends St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Mckeesport. He intends to pursue a degree in engineering and play baseball.
Matthew Welch, John's golf and basketball coach, is his mentor for the project.
All items collected through the end of February will be mailed and then distributed by Michael Shaheen of Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the Dominican Republic to sugar cane villages, orphanages and fields.
“The goal is simply to provide a set of clothing and baseball equipment for (every player in) an entire orphanage,” John said.
“The ultimate goal is to help someone. I will have succeeded with this project when I have helped as many people as possible, and made someone's life better.”
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.