There came a time in Justin Halladay’s life when he realized he probably wasn’t going to make it to Major League Baseball.
A skilled catcher, Halladay was forced to retire upon entering college due to a rotator cuff injury. But love for America’s favorite pastime never left him. In fact, he’s been able to spread that love to another America—Latin America.
It started with a study abroad trip to Cuba as part of an economics class when
Halladay was a WVU junior in 1999. At the suggestion of economics professor
William Trumbull, Halladay and his classmates, including friend Peter Freedman,
handed out baseball cards, baseballs, and gloves to the children there. Most
of them didn’t even have a baseball to play with.
“That’s when the seeds were planted,” said Halladay, who eventually founded Project Beisbol, a nonprofit organization that collects baseball equipment for children in Latin America. “It was my first time in an impoverished country, yet the concentration and passion they had for baseball had a great impact on me.”
Halladay’s group doesn’t just show up, hand out baseball equipment, and leave town. It’s a cultural experience for American volunteers, as well as the children they’re helping.
“We have students, some as young as 16, who volunteer with us and learn great responsibilities,” said Halladay, a native of the Philadelphia area. “These are young leaders, and not all of them are even baseball fans. It’s not just about a sport. It’s about international relations and connecting people across borders.”
GOING TO BAT FOR LATIN AMERICA
When he graduated from WVU, Halladay sold his car and moved to Brazil to teach English as a second language. After additional trips to Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, he returned to the States to study again and settled down with a position at the Florida campus of the Cleveland Clinic.
Halladay wanted to do something about the problems he witnessed in other countries—the inequality, the racism, and the lack of opportunities for the people.
By 2008, he formed Project Beisbol, an initiative with roots dating back a decade earlier to his study abroad trip to Cuba.
“It’s not just about a sport. It’s about international relations and connecting people acress borders.”
The project made its first significant delivery in 2009 to Nicaragua, where children received bats, gloves, and baseballs. Today Project Beisbol supplies more than 15 communities and foundations in Nicaragua. In 2012, it also started to supply communities in Colombia with equipment.
So far, Project Beisbol has made seven trips to Nicaragua and Colombia, delivering more than 7,000 pounds of baseball and softball equipment, benefiting more than 1,100 children in 24 communities. The nonprofit has started to bridge baseball and softball communities in the United States and abroad, as well, through the Global Youth Connect Program.
“We look at this project as half baseball and half education,” Halladay said. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn about other countries and how they can make an impact and help those communities.”
“Oftentimes, other governments consider our government hostile. But we can show them that we care by coming down there. We’re not there just to give them stuff. We’re there to work on improving their situation. The more we get people together, the more we’ll move toward a peaceful atmosphere.”
Some of the students who volunteer with Project Beisbol also gain experience by helping with the group’s finances and running events. While abroad, they get to communicate with locals by speaking Spanish. Halladay says it enables young people to take on a major role internationally.
A UNIVERSAL LOVE
Without Professor Trumbull and the opportunities presented by WVU, Project Beisbol might not exist as it does today. Halladay embarked on three study abroad trips at WVU before graduating in 2000. He switched his major from pre-business to international studies because of the experiences he had overseas. He fell in love with the language, the culture, and the beauty he encountered on his trips.
“A lot of the meaningful, influential education I received came from WVU and its study abroad trips,” Halladay said. “The trips helped me adapt to new environments.”
Project Beisbol has expanded since its beginning—growing from just Halladay and a few interns to people across the country helping out. His goal is to keep it going. It also can’t continue without the unwavering support of fellow alumni, such as David Benz, who helped secure shipping sponsorship from DHL Express. “That sponsorship has dramatically increased Project Beisbol’s capacity to help youth in Latin America,” Halladay said.
“I want to take it as far as I can,” he said. “With this organization, I want to get as many kids as possible who want to play baseball to play.”
For more info on Project Beisbol, visit www.projectbeisbol.org or facebook.com/projectbeisbol.