MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Month: November 2007

On My Last Legs

[Edited 12/12/2007–I forgot to put a subject line in this posting, so I added one on this date.]

First, thanks to everyone for the birthday greetings. I hope I’m still still posting to this blog at the same time next year.

Everyone departed from the camp today, leaving for their respective homes in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Except for a few security guards, I’m the only one here tonight, and I’m feeling quite lonely and alone. Teaching everyday it’s easy to become friends with at least some of your students, especially if you’re living with them 24/7, so, naturally, I miss many of them already. Most of them will be returning to the camp in February, so I’ll see them soon. I said goodbye to as many of them as I could before I beat a path to the Boca Chica beach, my last visit there for a few months. Unfortunately, there are no good beaches in Santo Domingo. Perhaps I’ll have to return on a free weekend or, better, spend several days on one of the Dominican Republic’s world-class beaches of Bavaro or Punta Cana around Christmastime, a slow season, believe it or not, because many tourists stay home for the holidays.

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson has been working at the camp the last few days and I caught a glimpse of him as he ran by me going to his ride to Santo Domingo. Victor Mata, whose official title eludes me, but which I’d guess to be Head of Baseball Operations at the camp and who is also one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, said goodbye to me this morning. He also asked if I had gotten an autographed baseball from Reggie. No, I hadn’t. He gave me one and also another signed by future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera. Wow! What a couple of surprise gifts. Thanks, Victor.

Like I stated before, I’m the only one here. It sure is quiet. You can almost here the cold, lonely stars whispering their way across the heavens. The surrounding dark and mysterious forest and scrub land is silent tonight with the lack of any breeze. I often wonder why there is a large fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the complex, separating it from the encompassing countryside. Why do we need security guards? Is there something we should guard against or fear? Well, anyway, it is sure is quiet.

Whoa, what was THAT sound? Just a sec while I take a look outside . . .

Hello . . . Who’s there?
. .
What the hell is THAT?

Oh, my God . . . . . . . . . . . . !!! It’s . . . . .

Back to La Capital

Saturday, I go back to Santo Domingo for a couple of months, returning to the Yankee camp when it reopens around Feb. 1. Naturally, all the players are anxious to return to their homes and for the past few weeks have been daydreaming about the journeys there. Some left a few days ago (the Panamanians), but all the rest are leaving tomorrow, either very early (5 a.m.–the Mexican, Nicaraguan and Brazilian players) or in the afternoon (the Venezuelans and Dominicans). I have mixed feelings about moving back to S.D. Negatives–Big city, the noise and pollution, it’s expensive, I’ll miss the players and coaches, the baseball atmosphere, the beautiful night skies and the overall peace and quiet here at the camp. Positives–Big city, cultural opportunities, opportunities to travel around the country because of my job, excitement and uhhmmmm . . . Ah, well, it’s only for a little while.

I weighed myself this morning for the first time in awhile, and all those hour-long jogs are paying off. I’ve lost around 8 pounds and feel that I’m well on my way to losing at least 25 before July, hopefully closer to 30 or 35.

We’ve been plagued by hornets the last few weeks; they seem to be everywhere, sometimes disrupting English classes, weaving and swerving, threatening mayhem. At least the mosquitoes have died down, with all the dry weather we’ve been enjoying lately. It’s been very nice, not too hot, (even a little chilly at night), and clear skies. Running around the outfield warning tracks at 6:30 a.m. is very enjoyable, but that, too, is coming to an end. I’ll be enjoying afternoon jogs at the Parque Mirador del Sur in S.D., which is closed to motor vehicles from about 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. At least I don’t have to worry about the infamous S.D. traffic, but wish me luck anyway. More later.

Trip to San Juan de la Maguana

It’s about time I posted another entry, since I told a number of people I would soon write about the team’s trip a few Sundays ago to the western part of the country. It was interesting, beautiful, touching, and, at times, crazy and out of control. (Here’s a brief press release about the trip and the visit to the orphanage, which I described in the previous post.)

We left the camp around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18th. Making the trip were all of the players, about 60 of them, some of the Dominican and visiting American coaches, Abel Guerra, Ani Sanchez (the general manager of the baseball camp), four Americans from the USAID section of the Embassy and a busload of press people. Quite a big deal.

Our destination was a small village near San Juan de la Maguana, in the western part of the Dominican Republic, close to the Haitian border, an area that would take about 5 hours to reach.

We stopped for gas just outside of Boca Chica, which didn’t sit too well with a few people. Why didn’t the drivers gas up before the trip? Abel got a bit upset when one of the coaches on the bus carrying the players let the gang off the bus to get snacks. Getting them back on took a while and was a bit like herding cats.

We stopped in Santo Domingo to pick up a few more of the coaches, and then we were off to the hinterlands, four hours away. We passed through some very beautiful country along the way, transitioning from seaside to mountains.

Below is a photo of the mountains near our final destination, countryside that is representative of much of what we passed through.

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On the way, most of the several players who rode with us on the “adult bus,” as one wag put it, slept. However, they’re real camera hams, as you can tell from this shot taken after they finished snoozing.

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We finally reached San Juan and the end of our journey, I thought. Nope. We still had quite a few kilometers to go, eventually traveling to the small village of El Cercado, where the food warehouse of “Food For the Poor” (FFP) is located. FFP is a religious organization (as far as I can determine) that provides food, housing and other necessities to “the poorest of the poor,” according to their website.

From Cercado, we traveled about 20 more kilometers to the small, mountainous village whose bridge to the outside world had been washed away by the flooding caused by the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Noel. Poverty-stricken in the best of times, this isolation from the rest of the country is only increasing their hardship.

At the FFP warehouse, we had been joined by a deuce-and-a-half truck loaded with large bags of rice. The team’s job was to transfer the rice to a couple of smaller trucks waiting on the other side of the small stream where the bridge had disappeared in the flood. Here’s part of the crowd that had gathered there.

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The players and coaches formed a human chain and passed the food over to the other trucks.

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At the time, in my mind, I questioned why the big truck couldn’t have just brought the rice to the village, rather than going through this laborious process. Part of the reason could have to do with the publicity that was generated, but the terrain at the stream crossing was fairly steep and confining, and there was another larger river farther down the road, though it was shallow and flat. Perhaps the heavily laden deuce-and-a-half would have mired in the river bed.

At any rate, the rice was transferred and brought to the distribution point just on the far side of the larger river, where it was handed out to the villagers. That sounds a lot more tranquil than the reality of the situation. The trucks were mobbed, literally almost overrun by hungry people. There was no organized system in place for giving out the food–just lug it over the side of the trucks to the outstretched hands. A few of us commented on the process and lack of organization, but I later overheard a few of the FFP honchos saying that they had tried other methods, but nothing else had worked. So, chaos ruled. At times I feared for the safety of those in the trucks and for the numerous children milling around the area, but I didn’t notice any calamities or injuries. I can barely imagine what the scene must be like in places such as Darfur, where thousands of hungry people are camped, waiting for food. Below is one scene of the chaos.

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At last, all the food was gone. Many folks were pleading for more, but there was none. I hope that family, friends and neighbors helped out those who were unfortunate enough to not have received anything. This sweet, older lady got hers, though.

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We arrived at the camp about 8:30 that night after an uneventful return trip. Everyone was tired but satisfied with the effort. Let’s hope, however, that efforts like this are unnecessary in the future.

Happy Birthday to me today! More later.

Big Doings

It’s been a very busy week at the camp–many, if not all, of the Yankee scouts from around the region, including Venezuela, have been staying here, and, as well, many American Yankee coaches and about 8 American minor leaguers have been attending the camp.

Wednesday was a very interesting day. Many of the visiting U.S. players and a few of the Dominican guys, as well as yours truly, went into Santo Domingo to put on a clinic at an orphanage there. It was attended by a couple hundred or so happy, energetic kids. Also on hand from the Big Team were 1st base coach Tony Pena, outfielder Melky Cabrera, 2nd baseman Robby Cano, and up-and-coming pitcher Edwar Ramirez. All of them are from the D.R. The Yankees also donated $25,000 to a group called “Food For the Poor” as part of the relief effort in the wake of Tropical Storm Noel.

In a press release, the Yankees stated that the club is also going to San Juan de la Managua, Ramirez’ home town, in the southwest part of the country this Sunday to assist in relief efforts. I’ll be making that trip also, a journey that we’ll be starting at 6 a.m. Not just a handful of the players at the camp are going–the whole team, some 65 or so players, along with coaches, scouts and others, will be making the trip. It should be a great time during a very worthwhile effort. Scroll down to see some photos from the Santo Domingo orphanage clinic. I’ll definitely post some from San Juan later, and I’ll also be posting more than what’s below to the Photo Gallery eventually.

Yesterday, Thursday, proved to be a big day, also. On hand were new Yankees manager Joe Girardi, his new bench coach, Rob Thomson, and future Hall of Famer, relief pitcher extraordinaire, Mariano Rivera. Alas (sigh), I failed to get any pictures of the three. Girardi gave a pep talk to the team in the morning and Rivera talked to them later in the afternoon after their game against the Florida Marlins team.

I got to meet, shake hands and talk a bit with Girardi, Thomson, and Pena, and they all had kind and encouraging words about what I’m doing with the club. Very motivating for me.

Still no sign of Brian Cashman or Felix Lopez, though I dare say they are busy with the efforts to re-sign Alex Rodriguez. It’s been reported (just one source of hundreds) that he’s going to sign a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yanks, a fairly stunning development. I’m all for it. He’s a great player, one who will probably go down as one of the all-time greats in baseball history. I think it’s a good thing that he’ll be spending the large majority of his career with the Yankees. Besides, who else can afford that kind of money, though rumors also reported that the Mets and the Angels were interested in signing him, too.

Ok, here are the orphanage photos. Some of them are pretty large files, but if you read all of the above post, they should have loaded by now. As always, click on the photo to see a larger image.

Six future major leaguers, perhaps?

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Part of the large crowd that was on hand.

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Tony Pena, flanked by Melky Cabrera (left) and Edwar Ramirez, speaks to the crowd.

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The presentation of the check for $25,000 to Food For the Poor.

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This is one of the Yankee camp players, pitcher Ivan Nova. Yeah, the kids are short, but Nova stands about 6 feet, 4 inches. For some reason, the kids were flocking to him for his autograph. He’s a good guy who speaks decent English, and I hope he makes it to the Bigs some day. He played for the Class A Charleston, SC RiverDogs last year. I told him his nickname, if and when he gets to the Majors, will probably be Ivan the Terrible, but he said it’s going to be Super Nova.

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One of the coaches gives a clinic to future Yankee pitchers.

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A little fielding instruction. There were different clinics going on all over the fairly large complex–instructions on pitching, fielding, throwing, running and more.

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One of the visiting American minor leaguers signs autographs.

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One of the American players poses with a group of youngsters.

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And, finally, Jairo Heredia, another great guy from the camp, poses with a group of kids. Last year Jairo played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees, based in Tampa.

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I also forgot to mention that on Tuesday, I was interviewed by George Gedda, a former writer for the Associated Press (Google his name, and you’ll come up with a ton of articles he’s written). He’s in the process of writing a book about Dominican baseball culture and wanted to learn more about the English language teaching aspect in which I’m involved. George is staying in the D.R. until February, so the book will come out sometime after that. Look for it in bookstores everywhere.

I’m up to an hour and ten minutes in my daily jogging sessions. My ankle’s been bothering me a bit, but once I start running, the pain goes away. It seems to be stiff more than anything else. I just hope it doesn’t get more serious. It could ruin my future chances to play with the Yanks. 😎

More later.

English–Si or No?

We’ve had sunny, dry weather lately, so the fields are no longer drenched, and I’m able to do my 5-times weekly jog around the four warning tracks, rather than the access road. I’m now punishing myself for more than an hour each session. :O My goal is to lose somewhere around 30 pounds before I leave the D.R. next July. So far, I’ve lost about 5. Of course, with all the calorie reducing running, I have to be moderate in my weekend excursions into Boca Chica. Too much Burger King food and other goodies pretty much negate all the hard work.

Classes are going ok, more or less. Since this is the short session, only 6 weeks, it’s difficult to sustain a logically progressive syllabus, so I’ve been “picking and choosing” what to teach. I’m trying to include as much culture (American) in the lessons as I can, stuff like tipping in restaurants and elsewhere, ordering food in restaurants, baseball history, and other cultural trappings. My lessons DO flow one into the next, but I’m not always sure of the connection of one to another–a lot of it is “seat of the pants” effort. When the long term begins again in February, I’ll start working from a more deliberate curriculum.

The kids (students, ballplayers), are, for the most part, ok. Like everything else, it seems, there is good and bad. A friend once told me that during your life, 80% of the people you meet will be neutral in their opinion of you, 10% will like you and 10% will dislike you. That seems to hold true about my students’ opinions of having to attend English class.

The large majority of them view the class as something they have to do, something they have to live with. They put in as much effort as I ask them to and no more, and they’re not too keen about going beyond what they receive in class–no extra studying or usage outside of the classroom.

A small minority, though, are firmly encamped on one of the other two sides.

There are those who’d rather drink poison than come to classes. This group might be physically present, but their minds are elsewhere and they refuse to participate. Either that or they are very disruptive, talking to others of like nature in Spanish about who knows what during class, resisting my best efforts at getting them to settle down and join in. There are times when I have to ask them to leave the room. At best they’re merely taking up space and at worst they are very disrespectful.

However, the other minority group more than makes up for them. These guys are the ones who sit up front, take notes, ask questions and generally motivate me to try to increase their numbers from the fence-straddlers. Outside of class, many of them ask me what can they do to increase their English skills. It’s very gratifying to work with this type of student.

Such is language teaching–it has its good and bad points. Overall, though, it is stimulating and satisfying, and, especially, working in and with other countries and cultures has been far beyond my expectations and dreams.

In a few short weeks I’ll be moving back into La Capital to work in much more academically-oriented environs. Meanwhile, earlier rumors had it that Brian Cashman and Felix Lopez would be visiting the camp tomorrow. Will they? I don’t know, but I’ll let you know when I know more later.

Cloudburst

Geez, we had a real slam-bang of a thunderstorm/rainstorm yesterday, a deluge more furious than anything Noel hit us with, and it was even pushing water into my room, under the door. It lasted about half an hour and left the fields, which had more or less dried out, drenched with more water than I’ve ever seen them covered with before. So, today’s games were cancelled and tomorrow’s play is in doubt.

Now, with all the rain recently, we’re being overrun by mosquitoes, hordes of them. The grounds crew sprayed everywhere today (with who knows what) to try to lessen the problem. Hopefully, the little critters won’t thrive on it.

Despite (or because of) the early afternoon storm yesterday, last night was very clear, and I finally got a chance to look for Comet Holmes, an amazing object that exploded from being the brightness of Pluto into a naked-eye treat. I bought some binoculars, a pair of Nikon Action 12x50s, while I was back in the U.S., and they provided a glorious view of this exceptional comet. You can look for it in the constellation Perseus. Here’s another story about it.

Drying Out

Noel has finally left the D.R., but not before flooding the country with heavy rains and causing 73 deaths so far. I haven’t been out of the camp recently, so I can’t say what the surrounding countryside looks like after the storm, but apparently we’ve not been hit hard in this area; it seems most of the damage was west of Santo Domingo. I asked my students about their families, but everyone is ok. The fields have drained off very nicely and were drying out swiftly under yesterday’s sun and stiff breeze. Let’s hope the country doesn’t have to suffer this type of weather again any time soon.

The coaches tell me that the first game will be played on Monday, against Toronto. A week after that, some of the upper echelon of the Yankees will be visiting the campus, including, rumor has it, Brian Cashman, the General Manager of the club.

Here’s a Sept. 12th article in Dominican Today [EDIT: The link is gone] about the baseball camp. Two of the kids mentioned in the article, the guys with the 800,000 and 1.1 million dollar bonuses, are in my classes, and both are about 17 years old. Can you imagine! I hope their families are using the money wisely.

Classes are going along nicely, and it’s hard to believe that after this week, there are only about 3 1/2 weeks remaining in the camp; afterwards, I move into the capital for a couple of months. Since I’ve been trying to focus a bit on culture for this brief period, some of the advanced classes have been exposed to music–folk, jazz, rock ‘n roll, rap, etc.–from an American point of view, while learning English. How? Well, we look at a lot of the history of the music, so correctly forming and using the past tense with all its irregular verbs is appropriate. This kind of stuff is always fun to do, for me and the students, since it takes the focus off the overt, more traditional learning of, for example, grammatical forms. Next up: maybe some baseball history, like who became new managers of the Yankees and the Dodgers at the end of the 2007 season? More later.

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