by Samantha Pell
PHOENIX – In November, relief pitcher Jacob Barnes journeyed to Honduras for what he calls an eye-opening experience.
Standing outside the Brewers’ clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday, Barnes recalled his five days in the Central American country. He helped build houses, fences and a wall for a facility where single mothers drop off their kids when they go to work.
But the biggest takeaway from the trip for Barnes, 26, came from his interaction with children.
“They lack a lot,” Barnes said. “Food, clothes, shoes. Shoes was a big thing. There was a lot of shoes brought down for them. They are out there wearing shoes with holes the size of your hand down there.
Barnes was offered the chance to go on the mission trip near the end of last season. The timing, he said, worked out “perfectly.”
He went with other baseball players represented by his agency, ICON Sports Management. They travelled to the city of El Progreso (Population in 2015: 310,000). The group worked with a nonprofit organization called Hearts2Honduras, which has been taking mission trips to Honduras since 2010.
Barnes visited children at orphanages who had been abandoned by families unable to care for them.
“All of a sudden you see 7-, 8-, 9-year-old kids who have come from literally being on the street at age 4 by themselves and somehow figuring out how to survive,” Barnes said.
Hearts2Honduras was started in 2010 by a mother and son, Rhonda and Shelton Wicks, after they visited the Copprome Orphanage in Honduras. Falling in love with the children there, they took on more than the orphanage itself.
“We ended up taking on a village,” Shelton Wicks said in a telephone interview. “There are about three nonprofits that we work together with, and we build about 31 homes in the village. (Built) a church, we gave them running drinking water (and) a well. That was about a five-year project that we did.”
For Barnes, it was his first time on a mission trip to Honduras. But ICON Sports Management has been taking pro baseball players on mission trips to Honduras since 2014.
Barnes was part of a group of more than a dozen people who went on last fall’s trip. The players included Andrew Heaney and Daniel Wright (Los Angeles Angels organization), Mitchell Hansen (Los Angeles Dodgers), Collin Wiles (Texas), Jameson Fisher (White Sox) and Tommy Eveld (Arizona).
“They (ICON Sports Management) had kind of told me a little bit because they went previous years and it was, there is not a lot down there,” Barnes said. “It makes you appreciate everything when you come back and obviously you want to keep doing it more and more.”
In addition to the labor work and bringing supplies to the community, the group focused on building relationships with the children and doing what the players do best:
The players brought along bags of wiffle balls and bats and taught many kids the sport for the first time. That included kids with Down sydrome.
“You are taking people who are watched and loved and followed on a daily basis by many people,” Shelton Wicks said. “They are kind of put on a pedestal. When they come to Honduras, they are no longer on that pedestal and they are able to kind of let loose and really get down and build a relationship with the children.”
Wicks said the bonds the players have made on these trips with the children in orphanages are like no other. After the players leave, the children often ask when they will return.
“It’s constant every single time,” Wicks said. “And we always say ‘November. In November.’’
And Barnes is planning to go back.
“Hopefully I can bring a couple of people,” Barnes said. “Last year it was kind of last minute so I couldn’t plan with people because they had to take off, and I’m planning on bringing at least one or two people with me and letting them see that too because it’s definitely an experience you have to do.”
(Video by Megan Plain/Cronkite News)