An area amateur baseball team leaves today for an exotic road trip, but the goal isn't merely to play the game - it's to give something back to it.
The Maryland Mustangs, an Amateur Athletic Union traveling team of 17- and 18-year old players from the Baltimore region, will play a series of seven games in Puerto Rico this week. More importantly, at the end of the trip, the team will donate 1,000 pounds of new and used sports equipment - including gloves, balls, bats, uniforms and hitting tees - to a sports program for disadvantaged youth.
Mustangs manager David Schwartz of Lutherville came up with the idea of giving his team the opportunity to make a difference.
"I've always thought it was imperative that the boys learn that life isn't served on a silver platter," Schwartz said. "I wanted to teach them the importance of giving back the hospitality they receive."
Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates was one of Schwartz' boyhood idols. The Puerto Rico native was killed in a 1972 airplane crash during a relief mission to aid victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
"This is my own goodwill trip," Schwartz said.
Schwartz pitched the idea of the Puerto Rico trip with the dual purpose to Eddie Rodriguez, who is in charge of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Puerto Rico. RBI is an effort by Major League Baseball to promote the game in disadvantaged areas and overcome obstacles such as street gangs or lack of funding or community support.
"I called [Rodriguez] and said, `Look, I don't know you, and you don't know me, but here's how I want to help,'" Schwartz said.
Mustangs pitcher Brad Rifkin, 17, of Columbia, who is a senior at Park School in Brooklandville, said the trip is exciting, but he underscored the greater purpose.
"It's one thing to play baseball, but it's quite another to help a group of people out in the process, and it's amazing to be a part of that," he said.
The Mustangs, who play their home games at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, compete against teams around the state and the country. They will be going to Kingsport, Tenn., for the AAU national championships next month.
The Maryland team is scheduled to arrive in Puerto Rico today and meet with its hosts, Puerto Rico's national amateur team and representatives from the RBI program.
Tomorrow through Saturday, they are scheduled to play seven games at Roberto Clemente Sports City in San Juan and fields in Aguadilla.
On Saturday, the players and coaches will donate the equipment and conduct a clinic, returning home that night.
Much of the $18,000 trip is being paid by team sponsor Mile One Automotive. It was also financed by other corporate donors and team fund-raisers.