By Matt Williams Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — The Boston Red Sox help sponsor a baseball and community service program in the Dominican Republic called Lindos Suenos.
When translated, Lindos Suenos means beautiful dreams. Ipswich High junior Austin Rubino can tell you first-hand that the program makes those dreams come true.
Rubino, 16, was one of 10 teenagers that spent 10 days over the summer in the Dominican Republic. During their time in the country, the boys team with 10 Dominican youngsters to form a baseball team and a community service group.
The service involved renovating and refurbishing homes in the village of El Mamon — “You can’t even see it on a map,” Rubino said — was proved to be a profound experience.
”It was the best experience I’ve ever had. It was helping people that really need help,” said Rubino. “The positive outlook the people have there is amazing to see. The feeling seeing that gives you is inexplicable and I’m so thankful for the chance to participate.”
The Sox have been running the program since 2004, and Rubino first saw it on the team’s Facebook page when he was 14. He went through an interview process at Fenway Park but was ultimately too young for the program; he applied again at 15 and was accepted on the third try for this past summer’s trip, which ran from July 25 through August 3.
The ten Americans selected paired up with ten youngsters selected through the Red Sox Dominican Academy. They formed a baseball team, friendships and a bond of service quickly.
”I still talk to some of the kids on Facebook — with a little help from a translator app,” said Rubino. “I’m really happy with the way it worked out. It was a big experience, a lot to take on, and I feel like there was a reason it took me three years to make it.”
The group spent the first four hours or more of each day working on homes in the village. Rubino was particularly proud of one home that began at just 50 square feet that the group stripped down and rebuilt to nearly twice its original size. Actually seeing what it looked like beforehand compared to the new size was an powerful visual image.
A lot of the work Rubino did involved painting and some of the best memories came from interacting with the local residents.
”A lot of the kids would ask for brushes, and of course you’re going to give them a brush,” said Rubino, who was moved by both the gratitude and the willingness to help of the village’s residents.
”They were right there with us, banging nails in and painting and helping in any way they could. That was the best part of the experience and it certainly motivated us to keep going.”
Rubino’s favorite subject in school is Spanish and though he’s studied it since middle school there was a definite learning curve during the trip. The speed and dialect of actual speech can’t be replicated and there’s no substitute for full immersion.
”You start to pick out words and you feel more comfortable,” he said. “I roomed with one American kid and one Dominican kid and it was great to make that connection on a personal level.”
After building in the morning, there was baseball to played. The group played at the Sox Dominican Academy — “The nicest fields I’ve ever played on,” Rubino said — against other Dominican squads.
”The level of baseball is insane down there. A really high level,” said Rubino, who got a thrill by playing wearing a No. 80 Red Sox jersey he got to bring home to Ipswich.
”There was one kid that was a lefty throwing 91 (miles per hour). I put it in play and I was pretty happy with that.”
Rubino is one of the captains of Ipswich’s golf team and made the Tigers’ varsity baseball team as a sophomore last spring. He was the team’s fourth outfielder and is poised to take on a bigger role in 2013.
”Austin is a go-getter and he’s a kid that’s not afraid to take chances,” said Ipswich baseball coach Gardy O’Flynn. “He did some tremendous community service down in the Dominican and seeing that love for the game down there will really make anyone’s hunger for baseball grow.”
The Dominican Republic is certainly a baseball loving nation. Watching the joy that kids who don’t have advantages like iPhones and satellite television take from a simple inning of baseball left an impression on all the Lindos Suenos participants.
“It’s unreal,” Rubino said. “It was amazing to get that view of what baseball is like through those eyes.”
”I never played there but I have some close friends that did and for Austin to experience that culture, and see what those baseball guy go through, that’s great to see,” said O’Flynn, a veteran of six pro seasons that threw more than 1,000 professional innings.
Rubino was incredibly thankful to the Red Sox and sponsor Jet Blue for giving him the opportunity to experience another walk of life. The gratitude of the residents of El Mamon, however, was easily the most moving part of the trip.
”It was really touching. On our last day, three of the ladies prayed for us and we heard someone singing a hymn. They were so grateful,” said Rubino. “The kids were so friendly, so happy and outgoing. Their outlook on their situation is so positive.”
In the end, Lindos Suenos showed Rubino how much any kind of contribution to others can mean and how sports can break through cultural barriers.
It showed him just how beautiful dreams can be.