Team America takes two from St. Helens for baseball tour of Italy
Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence on Italian itenerary for USA Baseball hopefuls
Most kids spends their summers heading to the river and taking a swim, building tree forts and playing ball in the hot sunshine.
Derek Badger and David Parks, both of St. Helens, will be doing exactly that, but with one exception – minus the tree fort, they'll be doing it in faraway Italy.
Badger and Parks will fly out next week as members of the Team America Baseball Team to play a series of games across Italy as part of a tour sponsored by Caliendo Sports International, visiting several different areas of the county and having the opportunity to represent St. Helens, as well as drink in a fresh experience in an unfamiliar part of the world.
Caliendo Sports, which has taken players around the globe for the last 10 years, goes far beyond the single trip to Italy this summer. The company has trips planned to the Dominican Republic, Czech Republic and Prague, Australia and Japan for baseball, and an additional trip to the Czech Republic for softball players. They're built on the idea that international competition and cultural exposure are far more than the sum of their parts as far as an athlete's development is concerned, and if the testimonials on Claliendo's website are representative of the typical experience, the program has it spot on.
For the Italian tour, players from as far apart as New York State and Florida, to Chicago and Nevada will team up, hitting the ground at practice and hoping to shake off the rust before getting started with their games – which they'll be playing every day of the trip.
Long before they could begin planning their activities in Italy, both Badger and Parks needed to figure out exactly how they'd be making the trip. It's just under 6,000 miles between Portland and Rome, where members of the team will meet on Aug. 2 and 3.
Parks caught a lucky break. His airline miles were donated by his mother's boss, but that still left money for food, lodging, souvenirs and the entire ticket for the Badgers.
Badger sent out a number of sponsor letters asking for donations, and the pair set to work looking for alternative ways to raise the funds, including a can drive and a partnership with Burgerville, during which the boys bused tables and served food at the St. Helens location and were rewarded with 10% of the store's earnings during a four hour period.
Now, with just a few days left before they leave, concerns turn away from the monetary and toward a few more tangible things: nerves, excitement and making sure everything gets packed in the right place.
Along with playing baseball, Parks said he was excited about the food – especially pizza and gelato.
Badger was of the same mind, adding that he was looking forward to the climate as much as anything.
Both players hit at Coach Vic's Batting Cage and Hitting Academy in Hillsboro, their connection to Victor Hernandez, who will coach Team America while in Europe. Hernandez, who traveled in his younger days while playing professionally, said the experience of playing in different cities across the country like the big leagues has helped players excel once they hit the high school level.
In addition, the team members receive training from professionals associated with USA Baseball, the governing body for amateur baseball in the United States. It gives Peter Caliendo, who started the international travel program and continues a strong connection to the USA Baseball program, a chance to see kids from around the country and evaluate whether they should have a shot at making the national squad. It's been a major motivator for Hernandez, who wants to expose more Oregon players to the program, as well as develop them ahead of the high school game.
Kids come back learning a whole new way of playing the game, said Hernandez.
Badger, who will see most of his time with Team America at the catcher position, will also have to lug his gear through the airports until it can safely rest on the team bus. Parks will see a mixture of time in the infield and on the mound, something he's a little uneasy about, given that it won't be backyard baseball anymore.
It's more pressure than you'd think, he said of pitching to the Italian teams.
I hadn't thought about it much, but now that you mention it [I'm nervous.]
Hernandez, who has seen plenty of youthful all-stars step on the international field for the first time, agreed.
A lot of kids, their minds are blown, he said with a laugh. It's like a deer in the headlights, they're just in awe. You have to pinch them to make sure they're not dreaming.