MESA, Ariz. -- While soccer is the sport of choice for nearly all of their Latin American neighbors, Nicaragua reveals itself as a baseball-mad scene. Passion for the game runs deep in this nation, its history rich, but resources generally scarce.A's second baseman Jed Lowrie got a first-hand look in
MESA, Ariz. -- While soccer is the sport of choice for nearly all of their Latin American neighbors, Nicaragua reveals itself as a baseball-mad scene. Passion for the game runs deep in this nation, its history rich, but resources generally scarce.
A's second baseman Jed Lowrie got a first-hand look in January, conducting three clinics in four days with help from Nicaragua native and Angels pitcher JC Ramirez and former big leaguer John Mayberry Jr., who roomed with Lowrie at Stanford.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
That's also where the infielder met his wife, Milessa, who worked at the U.S. State Department for several years as a diplomat, enjoying stints in Toronto and Mexico City before returning stateside to start a family.
Together, they've given new meaning to a perfect marriage, binding baseball and diplomacy.
"I think it's a pretty special combination," Lowrie said.
Spring Training:Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear
Milessa, who made countless connections during her time in the State Department, took a request from one of them to her husband several years ago. Lowrie, asked if he would be interested in traveling to Colombia as a sports envoy, jumped at the opportunity to bring the game around the world.
In 2015, he teamed up with Project Beisbol, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources to baseball and softball programs in Latin American communities, and ran clinics in Bogota, Cartagena and Barranquilla.
Six weeks ago, they were at it again, this time in Managua, Nicaragua, and surrounding areas -- the power of sport to unite looming large in these communities.
Like Colombia, Nicaragua was identified by Project Beisbol as a country that could see the game expand with investment and development. Support for their latest venture was widespread; the U.S. Embassy in Managua, the Nicaraguan Federation of Associated Baseball and the MLB Players Association's non-profit organization, the Players Trust, were all involved in the project, which included the donation of hundreds of pounds of equipment.
Lowrie and Co. played host to 75 kids each day, many of them girls who were made to feel empowered throughout the experience. The participants jumped between stations, receiving not only extensive baseball instruction, but lessons on gender equality and gender-based violence through workshops run by local experts.
The clinics were located at various sites, offering a broad view of the baseball landscape in Nicaragua. One was set up at Dennis Martinez National Stadium, a just-completed project that provides Major League-quality facilities, while others were staged down a dirt road in rural areas described by Lowrie as "the more real Nicaragua."
"There couldn't have been a larger dichotomy," he explained. "But even on these back fields, you see the talent and the love of the game. I got out there and I pitched to them. Literally just a dirt field with a little grass here and there, kids using old catchers' helmets that didn't have the bill on it, and as they're running to first base, they're tossing off the helmet so the next kid could use it because they only have so many."
Lowrie doesn't speak Spanish, but it didn't matter. Baseball, he quickly learned, is a universal language.
"When I talk about these movements that I'm going to do, you can tell they're comprehending all of it," he said. "Whether you speak English, Spanish, Japanese, there are always constants."
Lowrie fully intends to continue these efforts, even when the 10-year veteran is done playing. Already, it's become a family affair, with 4-year-old Saige joining her parents in Nicaragua last month. Brother Miles, not yet 2, will soon be able to tag along.
"That's something that's important to us, having a worldly view, because it gives you perspective," Lowrie said. "I think it's important to travel internationally and have these experiences and share them with others."
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.