Round-trip­per

Col­lege base­ball: Col­lege of the Canyons base­ball coach Chris Cota shares sto­ries from trip to Do­mini­can Repub­lic

The Signal - - SPORTS - By Ma­son Nes­bitt Sig­nal Sports Ed­i­tor On Twit­ter: @ma­son_­nes­bitt

The im­ages of five-pas­sen­ger mo­tor­bikes and kids play­ing base­ball with plas­tic bot­tles and sticks so seared them­selves into Chris Cota’s mem­ory that the long­time Col­lege of the Canyons base­ball coach couldn’t help but re­lay the scenes to mem­bers of his sum­mer school class re­cently af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

On July 10, Cota flew five hours to Mi­ami, Flor­ida, and then an­other two hours to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic to coach a 14U team in the Cepeda Caribbean Clas­sic, a youth base­ball tour­na­ment or­ga­nized by fam­ily of MLB Hall of Famer Or­lando Cepeda.

“The kids are hun­gry down there for base­ball. It’s one of their only tick­ets out, and once they get into these acad­e­mies down there, it’s base­ball six or seven days a week,” said Cota, who re­ceived a call from Or­lando Cepeda Jr. last year about coach­ing in the tour­na­ment – then in Puerto Rico – but couldn’t make it.

The re­quest didn’t come at ran­dom.

Cepeda Jr. and Cota played to­gether at Col­lege of the Canyons in the mid-80s. Cepeda was a pitcher, Cota an out­fielder.

The two formed a re­la­tion­ship they’ve main­tained over the years, Cota says, both go­ing on to be se­lected in the MLB Draft and even­tu­ally tak­ing on sep­a­rate ca­reers.

This year, Cepeda Jr. made the same call about coach­ing and re­ceived a dif­fer­ent an­swer, with Cota tak­ing the reins of a 14U team con­sist­ing of six Amer­i­cans and four play­ers from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic who only spoke Span­ish.

The coach, who speaks a lit­tle Span­ish, didn’t see it as a chal­lenge.

“Once you’re on the base­ball field, it’s all the same lan­guage,” said Cota, who also had the lux­ury of an as­sis­tant coach on the trip, Ju­lian Yan, who is a na­tive of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

Near the end of the trip, Yan and Cota, who fig­ured out they’d played against each other in the mi­nor leagues, trav­eled to Yan’s home­town of La Ro­mana, a ven­ture that pro­vided some of Cota’s most vivid mem­o­ries.

“He showed us where he trained as a lit­tle boy,” Cota said. “You see lit­tle kids down these dirt roads, play­ing base­ball with sticks and plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles.

“I told him to pull over and was able to give a base­ball to these kids. For all I know, it might be the first base­ball they had.”

Cota’s team fin­ished the tour­na­ment 3-2 over­all, fall­ing in the sec­ond round of bracket play.

How­ever, the trip, Cota said, was about a lot more than wins and losses.

“The point wasn’t who wins that tour­na­ment, but rather the ex­pe­ri­ence for these kids,” Cota said, adding, “I think it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence for our kids to go down there and drive through Santo Domingo to the games and see four or five peo­ple on a mo­tor­bike cab.”

Photo cour­tesy of Cepeda Base­ball

Col­lege of the Canyons base­ball coach Chris Cota, left, re­cently took a trip to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic for a youth base­ball tour­na­ment. One of his fa­vorite mem­o­ries of the trip was gift­ing a base­ball to lo­cal kids.

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