CRYSTAL LAKE – The Woodstock Lightning travel baseball team’s season ended before the McHenry County Youth Sports Association Summer International Championships, but that didn’t stop some of its players from playing.
A few years ago, the Lightning faced an Aruba team coached by Robert Henriquez and the two teams became friendly.
Fast forward to 2013 when the Aruba Braves team fell on some hard luck, as several players had to drop out for various reasons, so the team scrambled to find enough players to field a team.
The Braves showed up to the tournament with just nine eligible players and called in a favor from an old friendship and reached out to the Lightning for players. Tommy Froman, Josh Sheahan and Michael Villareal suited up and have been playing with Aruba since the start of the tournament.
The three played in their fourth game with the team Sunday night against the Crystal Lake Cyclones, a game the Cyclones won, 1-0, dropping the Braves to 0-4.
“It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses, especially at this tournament,” Henriquez said, “but giving kids the opportunity to play with each other from different parts of the world is what it is really all about.”
For most players, playing in the tournament, facing international teams has been a big draw and a reason to be excited. Teams look forward to take the field against international opponents, but these three players had the opportunity to play on the same team with other kids from around the world.
“It’s been an unreal time,” Sheahan said. “Some of these guys can speak pretty good English so you can talk and share some stories.”
Sheahan, an outfielder for the Lightning, played in center field and even pitched a few innings in earlier games, added that he even learned a different perspective on the game and how it is played, but marveled that despite being from across the world, baseball is baseball.
“It’s cool because we are all pulling for each other and I never thought I would be in this position,” Sheahan continued. “It’s funny that this is one of the coldest weeks of the summer and all of these guys are freezing because it’s always 90 degrees where they’re from.”
Villareal soaked in the experience and remembered the moment when he was offered to play.
“It’s been easily the best experience of my life,” the 15-year-old said. “When they asked me to play I jumped on it. It’s been awesome.”
Even with a language barrier and being geographically distant from each other, the players from the Lightning have formed friendships and bonds through the medium of the game of baseball.
An outsider wouldn’t know that the team was put together at the last minute by looking at how the team responds to one another.
Froman was one of the biggest supporters on the team and made sure to congratulate his teammates by meeting them on the field after innings and he would joke and keep it light in the dugout during the game.
“These guys have felt right at home,” Henriquez said of the Lightning players. “They are all good ball players and good people, too.
“I think each person on this team has benefitted from having them here. It’s been great.”