BAJA SERVICE PROJECT MAKES LIFETIME CONNECTIONS FOR SCHOLAR-ATHLETES
In the quiet, pre-dawn hours of a fall morning in 2016, Chris McCready and 34 of his USD baseball teammates assembled at Fowler Park for a trip into the unknown.
Sure, they had taken many bus rides together, squaring off against rival baseball squads across Southern California and beyond.
But this was something special — and maybe a little intimidating. This was a trip across the U.S. border into Northern Baja California to build homes for families in need.
Like many of his Torero teammates, McCready was nervous — but in a good way. As a first-year player, he hadn’t experienced anything like this, and could never have guessed the indelible impact the trip would have on him … even if it got off to a less-than-auspicious start.
“I remember getting on the bus early in the morning, and no one really knew what we were going to do,” McCready, now a senior, recalls. “Everyone was kind of quiet, waiting for something to happen. Then the bus wouldn’t start, and everyone started laughing. It broke the ice a bit.”
The next 72 hours (engine malfunctions notwithstanding) would provide McCready and his teammates a life-changing look into the lives of underserved communities just outside their San Diego doorstep. Head USD Baseball Coach Rich Hill had connected with nonprofit organization Hope Sports — which conducts service projects in poverty-stricken communities around the world — about taking his team to the outskirts of Tijuana for a four-day service immersion trip. There, they would break the 35-man roster into two teams that would build two homes for local families.
Now, some three years and three service trips later, the annual project has become a source of pride for all members of the Torero baseball family. “An experience like this is so important to our athletes,” Hill says. “It shapes them, it provides perspective, and shows them how lucky they are to have the opportunities they have.”
Everyone who participates understands that the house builds are much more than the melding of plywood, glass and concrete. It’s an opportunity to make a deep and meaningful connection with those less fortunate, and to share that amazing experience with coaches and teammates.
“It’s really difficulty to get access to a project like this where you’re making such a direct impact on someone’s life,” says Hunter Mercado-Hood ’17, a former Torero outfielder who still makes time to participate in the Baja service project, despite having to commute from Northern California. “There’s a line out the door of alumni who want to still be part of this. The gift and gratitude swing both ways; the families are so grateful to us for building them a home, but we all are so grateful to them for helping us appreciate everything that we have.”
“Anyone who participates in this service project gets so much out of it,” adds McCreary. “I hope we do this as long as the work is needed.” — Mike Sauer
Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall.