They saw sparkling big league baseball diamonds. And they saw poverty.
For three Clark County boys, an August trip to the Dominican Republic for the Latin American Baseball Classic provided some top-notch baseball competition and a glimpse of life outside America.
Ethan Bausch, Dylan Buhrmester and Brady Majewski also came home champions.
Their team of 13 players from across the United States won the 13-U age division of the tournament that brought together youth baseball clubs from the Dominican Republic with teams of selected players from America.
“It was my best baseball experience so far,” Buhrmester said.
The players were selected for the team following a January tryout at a Vancouver training facility. The pay-to-play trip is organized annually by Big League Edge, a Seattle-area baseball training business. Tryouts for teams of players ages 9-18 are held around the country to roster teams for the USA-LABC program, which is not affiliated with USA Baseball.
The 13U team went 5-1 at the tournament, winning three of four games in pool play, then winning its semifinal and final games.
Their team scored the winning run in the top of the sixth inning of the championship game to beat Dominican Republic club Los Robles. The players from Clark County had the impression that many of the Los Robles players were older than 12.
The Clark County trio held their own. Each finished the tournament with at least three hits.
Bausch, a Canyon Creek Middls School eighth-grader who pitched and played at second base and in the outfield, was given the team award for the best attitude.
Buhrmester, a Columbia River High School freshman who played mostly at catcher, was given the award for the most improved player on the team.
Majewski, a Prairie High School freshman who played second base and in the outfield, was named the team’s best defensive player.
They played most of their games at stadiums built by the Mets, Blue Jays and Nationals. Games at local baseball clubs were played on diamonds that didn’t strictly measure a regulation 90 feet between the bases of 60 feet, 6 inches between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.
“It stood out just how poor they were,” said Majewski. Some played baseball in running shoes. One opposing team had to borrow a catcher’s glove from the American team.
Despite those challenges, the Clark County players said they were impressed by the passion for baseball in the Dominican Republic. The grandstands were filled with fans supporting the local clubs.
The players, and any parents who traveled with them, stayed at a resort. There wasn’t a lot of down time, but swimming and ping-pong were poplar activities.
Majewski said his favorite part of the trip — outside of the baseball — was getting to know his teammates and hearing the backstory of how each made the team.
Bausch said the most striking non-baseball part of the trip for him was seeing the poverty, and how people lived in that environment.
Buhrmester said hanging out with his teammates and making new friends was cool.
“Who knows, maybe we will cross paths again playing baseball in the future,” he said.