University of Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell has often explained that in addition to creating a team with aspirations of playing in Omaha every June, he also views his role as one to help his players become great on and off the field. He wants his players to have life experiences, such as the team's annual participation in the Susan G. Komen Louisville Race for the Cure. In addition to excelling in the classroom, he also wants them get an understanding of the joys and struggles that life away from the game will often present.
The team recently returned from a five day trip to the Dominican Republic, where they played four games and spent a considerable amount of time doing community service. While the time on the diamond will prove beneficial during the coming and future seasons, the more impactful experience for the Cardinals came while doing service in a few villages, visiting a girls orphanage and conducting a baseball clinic in a nation where baseball is viewed as a way off the economically-challenged island.
"That's why you come to Louisville," said pitcher Anthony Kidston. "The coaches are obviously great coaches, but they make you a better person. They make you a better man."
Prior to resuming practice on Thursday afternoon, Kidston, teammate Nick Solak and McDonnell all visited with the media to discuss the trip and it was immediately clear that the team's latest life experience had hit home.
"Taking a trip like that, going down there, it shows you how fortunate we are here and how blessed we are," said Solak. "It kind of challenges you to be very humble about what you do and at the same time to work hard. As far as baseball down there, all those guys are all playing to get off the island and come to the United States and their whole life is baseball. Sometimes here we might take that for granted. Seeing that different perspective of baseball and another side of life is a takeaway."
On the field, U of L went 2-2 in their four games. The Cardinals dominated on the mound and at the plate in their first two outings, winning by a combined score of 40-3. Facing a pair of teams from the Dominican Republic Professional League, Louisville dropped the final two games by a combined four runs. Seeing such competition and having the opportunity to hear from the Director of Dominican Republic winter league baseball also provided valuable insight for the U of L players.
Learning that 30 percent of big leaguers are international and seeing the determination and "passion in their eyes," the team saw firsthand some of the competition that they face in their personal quest for accomplishing big league dreams.
McDonnell described it as "an eye-opener" playing against teams consisting of Double-A and Triple-A players.
"It was very educational for our current college players that there is work to do," said McDonnell. "If you're going to be one of the 800 big leaguers in the world, there's a lot of work to do in these next few years, so I think it gave them a good perspective as to how hard it is."
The Cardinals scrimmage schedule will resume on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., ET with the first of three straight days of open scrimmages at Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals will also host open scrimmages on Monday at 3 p.m., and Tuesday at 3 p.m.