By Andrew Preston
Finished with final exams? Check.
Go home for the Christmas break? Not so fast.
Immediately after the fall semester ended, head coach Ryan Schmalz and his baseball team didn’t suit up to take the practice field or hit the weight room for conditioning. Instead, they boarded an airplane for a four-day mission trip.
“We wanted to use baseball to advance the gospel,” said Schmalz. “We set up baseball clinics for kids, played a pick-up game, helped out a local church set up Christmas parties for kids and attended church services.”
Schmalz, now entering his fifth season as head baseball coach, took the group, which consisted of a combined 20 players and assistant coaches, to Managua, Nicaragua.
The Nicaragua trip was more than just an idea Schmalz had. The Trojans head coach had been to the Latin America country before while he was in college. On top of that, one of Schmalz’s close friends at his church had connections within the capital city, Managua, and they were able to assist on the other end.
“My church helped us fundraise some, but for the most part the kids were responsible for coming up with the money themselves. Collectively, we worked as a team at Titans games to raise some money, but the kids had to do it themselves,” said Schmalz.
Primarily, the team’s goal was to share Jesus, but Schmalz said he got much more out of the experience.
“Seeing our kids grow and recognizethat the local church in Nicaragua has the same needs as they do—[and] a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—was incredible,” said Schmalz. “It was great to see our players share their faith and really get out of their comfort zones a little bit.”
Although a yearly missions trip is nearly impossible financially for the baseball team, Schmalz is already planning his team’s next trip.
“My goal would be that everyone in the program has the opportunity to go [on a mission trip] one time while they are here. So maybe once every three or four years,” said Schmalz.
According to Schmalz, the trip took about seven months to plan. From lodging, meals and events to fundraising and transportation, there was much to account for.
“There is a lot that goes into the planning process that most people don’t consider,” said Schmalz.
Senior outfielder, Patrick Reed said the trip cost about $1,500 per person—$1000 for the airfare and $500 for the lodging and personal belongings.
“Luckily my parents are awesome and they decided to help me pay for it,” said Reed.
The team worked with the Tennessee Titans to help pay for the trip. Several of the guys worked security at Titans homes games which the profits were designated for the trip.
Reed is well-traveled when it comes to exiting the United States.
“I’ve been in foreign countries before, but only as a tourist. But this time
going into it knowing I wasn’t going as a tourist was something I was really looking forward to,” said Reed.
Reed said he had taken two years of Spanish in high school and that he was one of the better communicators on his team.
“I was able to communicate a lot better than I thought. It worked the same the other way around. I could say a few words and then either our guides or the local people could piece together what I was trying to say,” said Reed.
According to Schmalz, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere behind Haiti. For him and his team, bringing much needed dental supplies was a major highlight of the trip.
“We gave away hygiene bags. They had things like toothpaste, toothbrushes and other basic hygiene products,” said Schmalz. “A product like that is a little harder to come by [in Nicaragua]. We gave away 500 of those bags.”
Reed and the team enjoyed some of the local cuisine while they were abroad.
“The food was so good,” said Reed. “Our guides stayed with us and cooked for us every morning and night—all traditional Nicaraguan food. It was really interesting, I tried a lot of new foods.”
While he enjoyed the food, Reed said most of all the atmosphere in which his team and the locals created was the best part of the trip.
“The realization that we may be different in a million ways, but we worship the same God—that was one of the biggest things I took away from it,” said Reed. “We weren’t there as a baseball team; we were there as a family.”