‘We’re very lucky’ – Chicago Tribune

Playing baseball has saved younger boys in Little Village secure, away from avenue violence and gangs. It has additionally opened the door to alternatives that when appeared distant, mentioned 13-year-old Freddy Garcia.

On Sunday Garcia and pals, Victor Cervantes and Ben DeMateo took off for Costa Rica to take part in a global baseball match the place they are going to be part of the Mexico workforce.

“We’re very fortunate,” Freddy mentioned. “My parents are excited and say that some kids don’t get this opportunity so we must take advantage of this opportunity.”

The boys, who’ve been taking part in facet by facet in parks on Chicago’s Southwest Side since they have been 4 years previous, are the one gamers from the United States representing workforce Mexico within the 14-and-under match in Central America, that runs by Sunday, mentioned Matt DeMateo, government director of the New Life Church, which runs the Little Village Little League. The boys will probably be competing with groups representing the Dominican Republic, United States, Colombia, Panama and Puerto Rico.

For greater than a decade, the Little Village Little League has been a secure haven for boys, offering them with an surroundings removed from the one usually highlighted within the information — and as an alternative fostering their progress within the sport and academically. More than 300 kids take part within the league.

Ben mentioned that the journey the three boys are taking is extra than simply about baseball, it’s a testomony to the work that he and different group leaders have been placing in to encourage change.

“For us, it is about the power of sport to create safe spaces, where kids are able to thrive. Play is one of the most important ways in which youth can deal with trauma and is one of the number one ways to build community,” DeMateo mentioned. Few occasions, children taking part in ball in underserved communities get the identical alternatives as these taking part in in leagues in wealthier areas.

Freddy, Victor, and Ben know that. Right earlier than leaving, Freddy and Victor shared their pleasure to characterize Mexico. “It’s a special feeling because I get to represent where my parents came from and I’m going to cherish every moment of it,” mentioned Victor.

When he began taking part in ball, it was only for enjoyable, he recalled. But he started to fall in love with the sport. Victor’s father, Victor Cervantes Sr., mentioned he’s pleased with his son. After immigrating to Chicago from Jalisco almost 15 years in the past, they established themselves in Little Village.

Cervantes Sr. mentioned that he’s grateful that his son can play within the match and recommended the coaches for his or her work.

“Gracias a dios pudo ir, y espero que lo aprovechen, no todos los niños de su edad en el vecindario tiene esta oportunidad,” Cervantes Sr. mentioned. “Thank God he was able to go, and I hope they take advantage of it, not all kids his age in the neighborhood have this opportunity.”

The journey can be proof that excellent news and good baseball gamers are creating within the Little Village neighborhood because of the funding in youth, mentioned Tony Rodriguez, one of many boys’ coaches.

“But the goal of it all is for the boys to eventually get a scholarship and pursue higher education,” mentioned Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who was raised in Little Village, needed to ensure that the game wasn’t solely a distraction however moderately a pipeline for progress for the youth that might finally additionally change the group narrative.

For that, Rodriguez helped set up the Little Village Sluggers, a year-round improvement program that is part of the Little Village Little League that recruits a few of the strongest gamers to educate them the basics of the sport and new expertise by utilizing his connections as a former faculty and semipro coach.

He additionally grew to become a part of the teaching employees of the Cubs RBI All-Star program in 2019. Cubs RBI is a Major League Baseball program designed to extend participation and curiosity in baseball and softball amongst youth as a part of Cubs Charities. Several RBI All Stars — together with the three boys — emerged from LVLL and take part in RBI Scholars, which affords educational help to athletes in Cubs RBI.

Cubs Charities, Rodriguez mentioned, has offered a number of resources and facilitated partnerships which have allowed him and DeMateo to foster their mission, together with main facility upgrades at Piotrowski Park. The enhancements on the park sparked the connection between Cubs Charities and the Little Village group in 2015. Since then, the group has invested greater than $300,000 in capital and program grants to help issues such because the Little Village Little League and the Cubs RBI program.

“Little Village is a great example of how sports can be a vehicle for strengthening youth, families and neighborhoods,” mentioned Keri Blackwell, deputy director for Cubs Charities. “We are excited for the amazing adventure that awaits Ben, Victor and Freddy. Their love for the game and drive to grow is why we remain committed to improving the quality, safety and accessibility of baseball and softball for youth across Chicago.”

The worldwide match grew to become a actuality because of Rodriguez’s connections with a baseball academy in Mexico. The final objective is to attach the gamers from Little Village and Mexico.

“We want to build a bridge between Chicago and Mexico — we have a bunch of partners and the majority of our players are Mexican — so we wanted to build a strong community of peace together with that group,” mentioned DeMateo.

Freddy, Victor, and Ben would be the first three gamers to build these connections with the gamers in Costa Rica.

“Hopefully with our skills we get to someday make it out and show that people from Little Village can really play,” Freddy mentioned.

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