Red Sox Program Does More than Play Ball… August 19, 2015
By Jess Thomas
“Tom, there were a lot of great applicants this year, and you made the team,” were the words that Tom Bunnell, a Stow native and Nashoba High senior, heard at Fenway Park back in May.
These words were Bunnell’s acceptance into a community service program, funded by the Red Sox Foundation, called Lindos Sueños, which translates to “Beautiful Dreams.”
The annual program, started in 2004, brings together students from the United States and the Dominican Republic to become a team in community service and in baseball in a needy Dominican location. This year’s 10-day long trip brought the U.S. teens to a Dominican village called El Mamón, where the participants helped build houses in the community.
Ten teens from each country were chosen after applying and being interviewed for acceptance into the program.
Bunnell, who plays on the Nashoba baseball team, happened upon the opportunity by chance back in January as he saw a description of the program on social media and decided to apply because of his previous experience with church mission trips and his love for baseball.
“I just signed up for it not really knowing what it was, not expecting to get it or anything,” Bunnell said. “I figured a ton of kids would sign up for it.”
But Bunnell was selected to take part in an online interview in March, which he also said he did not expect to get through.
In May, Bunnell was asked to come to Fenway Park for an interview, the final step in the long process.
He headed to Yawkey Way and went to the front office where the Red Sox ownership is located.
“There’s the World Series trophy, there’s a Ted Williams MVP trophy, and all these different plaques,” Bunnell said of the office decor.
Bunnell said he was thrilled when he found out that he was accepted and his journey to the Dominican began on July 27.
The biggest shock to Bunnell when he arrived was how differently Dominican people live and how much simpler life is for them.
Comparing it to his prior mission trips to Mississippi and Montana, Bunnell saw a different kind of poverty in the Dominican.
“Down there, they are worried about if their houses are going to fall over, and here we are worried about feeding a family,”
Bunnell said. “A rainstorm comes there, my house could fall over and I have to stay with someone else.”
This is one of the reasons that this program exists, as students work hard to help the community get on their feet with better built homes.
Bunnell marveled at the resourcefulness of the Dominican culture, as they just work with whatever they have available to them. He said that if a ladder broke in the U.S., we would just throw it away and buy another one. But in the Dominican, they find wood on the ground and make a ladder with that themselves.
He fit in very quickly with his fellow U.S. teammates and learned some Spanish with the Dominican students on the team.
“You’re all working as a big team on the house, which is amazing because just two or three days before, you just met the U.S. kids and you’re already a big group of buddies,” Bunnell said.
Mornings were reserved for service, but in the afternoon, the group played baseball at the Red Sox Dominican Academy and also soaked in baseball knowledge from some of the best.
Former major leaguer Jesus Alou was the director of the program and he, along with a few other coaches, worked with the players on their baseball mechanics.
The team played five games against other all-Dominican teams in the local area and they made it all the way to the second game of a tournament. But most importantly, they all had a great experience bonding and becoming friends.
Bunnell noted that by the second game they played, the team was cheering for each other in English and Spanish and rallying together.
After the tournament, Bunnell and his teammates were rewarded, as they were given the chance to donate some old baseball equipment to the younger Dominican kids.
“You see that baseball is the only thing they care about,” Bunnell said. “They don’t want the t-shirt, they want the bat. Everyone just was really happy after that and it was a great thing.”
The most striking aspect of the trip to Bunnell was how happy all of the kids were despite not having a lot of possessions.
“Why are we moping around because our phones are not going fast enough?” Bunnell laughed. “They don’t have phones and they’re still pretty darn happy there. Why can’t we do that?”
Bunnell and his U.S. teammates returned on August 5, and although the trip was over, there was still some fun to be had. They were honored before the Boston Red Sox game on Saturday, August 15 at Fenway.
Arriving at 10:30 a.m. in Boston, the Lindos Sueños staff gave the team a short tour of the ballpark before taking them onto the field.
The team packed into the dugout and met players such as David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Pablo Sandoval, Koji Uehara and Robinson Cano.
“They were all amazing,” Bunnell said. “It was unreal to be able to see them all and shake all their hands. It was surreal.”
They were taken inside the Green Monster and finally were honored in a pre-game ceremony, where a video showing the highlights of their trip was played on the video board in center field.
Bunnell said, ”It was a once in a lifetime thing and I am so thankful, as we all are, to the Red Sox and all of the Lindos Sueños staff.”
The Red Sox also won the ballgame that day by a score of 22-10, making a good day even better.
Bunnell’s mother, Alicia, was along for the trip and was so happy to see the team get honored on the field.
“Quite an honor and the boys had a blast,” Alicia Bunnell said. “It was great to see the boys together again. They did form great relationships they can remember forever.”
While Bunnell looks forward to taking his newfound baseball knowledge back to Nashoba Regional High School where he will be a pitcher for the varsity baseball squad, he said he is also glad to get back to an American menu.
“We ate the same lunch every day,” Bunnell said. “Rice, chicken and beans.”
He said it was good rice, chicken and beans, but by the eighth day, he was ready for some good American food back in the U.S.