MOOSIC — Back in January, Rob Refsnyder went to the Dominican Republic, along with more than 40 other professional players, in an effort to better understand a project he had joined.
The goal of Striking Out Poverty is to help end poverty in El Mirador, Dominican Republic.
Along with relief organization Food for the Hungry and fashion brand Athletes Brand, a company Refsnyder is the head athlete advisor for baseball for, the 40-plus athletes will sport a limited-edition K Poverty Shirt.
The t-shirts will have team-specific colors for all 30 MLB franchises and will be sold in an effort to help raise $95,580, which according to the organization’s press release will “allow El Mirador to become self-sustaining in just 10 years’ time.”
“It’s a cool idea to kind of try to get the fans involved,” said the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders utility man. “If you buy the t-shirt, proceeds go to the some of the work that Food for the Hungry’s doing through Striking Out Poverty.
“What Food for the Hungry and Striking Out Poverty’s doing right now is the biggest thing is drinking water. A lot of them drink contaminated water. They know they drink contaminated water, so it’s kind of sad. Women hike an hour up and back to get water and things like that. To get clean water, it’s really not that big of a money cost. It’s very attainable.”
The Dominican Republic has always been rich with baseball culture. There were 83 players from the Dominican Republic on MLB opening-day rosters in 2015. New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda and second baseman Starlin Castro, Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte and Cleveland Indians first baseman Edwin Encarnacion are just a few.
Refsnyder, a native of Seoul, South Korea, didn’t understand how important the sport was to its residents until he visited the country in January.
“From the impression that I got when I was there was that baseball (is) the biggest thing in the communities,” Refsnyder said. “When we were building that backstop, men and women were playing — kids. It kind of just seems like that’s what kids gravitate toward, and it’s really cool.
“Obviously when you do work you want to see who it’s impacting and where the money’s going toward. I think right now the biggest thing is a lot of those communities is if they produce a baseball player in the major leagues, the players generally go back and help those communities, but there’s a lot of communities that don’t have a Major League Baseball player. There’s a lot of communities where the discrepancies between the rich and poor are pretty immense.”
The t-shirts are sold over the course of a two-week campaigns and then a different group of shirts becomes available. New York Yankees and Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs and White Sox shirts are available until May 31, and can be purchased at athletesbrand.com.
Group 4 starts the May 31 and runs through June 14, and includes Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Kansas City and St. Louis.
Pirates outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge are just a few players who have joined the cause.
Ford stepping up
When Ji-Man Choi was placed on the seven-day disabled list last weekend, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders called up Mike Ford from Double-A Trenton to step in.
And they haven’t skipped a beat.
The 24-year-old first baseman immediately stepped into Choi’s clean-up spot in the RailRiders batting order, and has been a threat at the plate in each of his six games heading into Saturday’s tilt against Rochester. Ford owns a .308 batting average and homered in three straight games this week.
“He is way more than capable of not only holding his own here, but performing here. So anything he does to help us is not going to be a surprise or a shock to me,” RailRiders hitting coach P.J. Pilittere said. “I think he does a lot of the things that Ji-Man does really well, which is they swing at strikes, they hit the ball hard, they use the whole field, they’re tough outs, they don’t give anything away and I think that stability in the middle of the order behind guys like Dustin (Fowler), Tyler (Wade) and Clint (Frazier) really, really makes it tough on the opposition to navigate a lineup.”