For four Riverland baseball players, Hurricane Maria meant days of not knowing if families were okay
Published 7:41 am Friday, October 20, 2017
Usually when fall rolls around for the Riverland Community College baseball team, it brings a time of anticipation and excitement. The Blue Devils play their fall schedule and they begin to see how their team will shape up for the upcoming season.
But this fall brought tough times to a good portion of the team when Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico late September and left the island in a state of emergency. For Blue Devil baseball players Josh Molina, Ryan Cruz, JanLouis Reyes and Yadiel Ortiz, who are all natives of Puerto Rico, the hurricane put them into a state of uncertainty that left them in a panic.
Miles away from their families, they had to wait for weeks to hear if their loved ones had even survived the ordeal. The only way to get updates was to watch the news or check social media. When the players finally did hear from their families, it wasn’t good news as they discovered there was a massive water and power shortage and the entire state of the island was in disarray.
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“It was tough,” Reyes said. “It was hard being in class and not knowing anything about your family. You wondered if they were OK or if they were fine. They didn’t have any services. They’re the people you love most and they care about you. Knowing nothing about them was hard.”
When the players do get to speak to their families, it is often reduced to five minute conversations as there are many people in Puerto Rico looking to use the few phone lines that are available. Ortiz said he heard stories of people waiting up to five hours for gasoline in the first week of the hurricane and much of the island was without power.
None of the RCC baseball players from Puerto Rico are likely to see their families until they hit their winter break in December. The wait is an excruciating one for those who would like to help their families and Ortiz has been overcome with a feeling of helplessness as he waits to see his family again.
“Not knowing how my family was [for a week] and seeing all that disaster made me nervous and it made me think a lot of bad things,” Ortiz said. “I would’ve preferred being with my family and being able to help them during the disaster. Just being with them and knowing they were OK would’ve made me happier than me being here and OK, but not knowing anything about them.”
While the baseball diamond has been a place of passion for the Blue Devils and their Puerto Rican players in the past, it wasn’t enough to cure their ills this fall.
Cruz said everything became difficult after the hurricane and all four of the players have often found their thoughts drifting to Puerto Rico during practice or in the classroom.
Molina hit .430 with 46 RBIs for RCC last season and he loves playing baseball, but this fall has been difficult for him. While the Blue Devils were undefeated on the field during the fall season, Molina wasn’t able to enjoy much of it.
“I was thinking about my mom and my family. They don’t have water and that’s pretty hard. It’s a difficult time,” Molina said. “They can’t work and they don’t have any jobs. Some people have no house or no car.”
“My family was one of the first ones to get hit. I didn’t hear from them for three weeks and now they have to travel 40 minutes just to get water. Everything is destroyed,” Cruz said. “It’s hard to concentrate in class when you’re thinking about your family. Now it’s kind of normal since we know that they’re safe. We support each other [as teammates] and that’s made us happy. We’re together and we help each other.”
RCC has also stepped up to help its Puerto Rican players as the school has offered work study that allows players to buy groceries and necessities. Coaches, counselors and teammates have also stepped up to offer a support system.
“I think our team has become a closer, more tight-knit team,” RCC head coach Scott Koenigs said. “The guys truly care for each other and want to help out any way they can. We have a great group of guys.”
Koenigs started to recruit players from Puerto Rico when he began going to Florida and Texas to coach and speak at camps and showcases several years ago. He met some people from Puerto Rico, Curacao and Florida who were looking to advance players to the college level and soon a pipeline to RCC was established.
“I was fortunate enough to develop a very good relationship with them and they trusted me to send their kids our way,” Koenigs said. “The first few players [we recruited] liked it at Riverland and enjoyed the Austin community which led to many other players wanting to come here.”
When spring approaches, the Blue Devils are hoping they can get back to focusing on baseball. RCC finished 32-10 overall last season and this year’s team has high hopes of getting to the NJCAA Division III World Series. Molina says the team has a lot of potential.
“We’ve got a great team,” Molina said. “We’ve got chemistry, we’ve got good coaches and we we can go far this year.”