Zips assistant coach Brian Donohew shares love of sport and spirituality on mission trip
Brian Donohew first learned about Score International during a baseball coaches convention in Florida in January 2006.
The sports-themed mission group sounded interesting, like something the University of Akron assistant baseball coach ought to consider someday. Donohew picked up a flier to take home and to share with his wife.
After the couple’s promising initial conversation, the flier was left on a table and soon buried in a pile with other things to do. As months went by, it would get moved around from table to table, room to room.
But it was never thrown away.
”Every time I saw it, I’d think about it,” Bonnie Donohew said. ”A couple of times I thought I’d just get rid of it, but for some reason, I never did.”
Bonnie Donohew was clearing off the table in July when she noticed the flier again, and something told her to sit down and talk to her husband, who then was in the middle of his traveling baseball season.
”I just felt it was time to do something with it,” she said. ”I started praying on it big time, and asked others to do the same. Soon it was so clear to me.
”Brian had to do this.”
Faith can lead in unusual ways.
Brian Donohew always thought that there was something more he should be doing, somewhere else he should be going, someone new he should be touching spiritually.
But what? And how?
In addition to being in his fourth season with the Zips’ baseball program, the 39-year-old husband is a father of 8-year-old son David and 2-year-old daughter Delanie. Time already was at a premium at their modest Cuyahoga Falls home.
Once he learned about Score International and its nondenominational message, an urge to do more tugged at him. How could he fit a baseball mission trip to the Dominican Republic into his crowded life?
After plenty of prayer and the belief God would help pave the way, Donohew raised a majority of the funds and scheduled the November trip that forever changed his life.
It was a trip that broadened Donohew’s sense of doing God’s work. A trip that showed him that despite a hectic daily schedule that includes coaching, teaching and taking classes toward his doctorate, he and his family are so blessed.
”It was the first time in my life that I had been in constant prayer throughout the week,” Donohew said. ”Then you get back to your everyday grind of life and there’s that emptiness. Down there I felt so close to God. Now I’m back here, and (God is) starting to get away.”
A different world
The Score instructors come from myriad walks of life. They come together for one reason: to spread the gospel through sports.
Making the trip along with Donohew were college coaches and players from across the country, all kinds of businessmen and even a congressman from Kentucky. The ”stars” of the mission group were a small contingent of New York Yankees: future hall of fame closer Mariano Rivera, infielder Andy Phillips and minor-league pitching prospect Ian Kennedy.
Ironically, among the many people Donohew met in the Dominican Republic was former UA baseball and football standout Dave Wrigley, a Zips hall of famer who signed professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. Donohew also ran into a former coach of his from Georgetown (Ky.) College.
”We hadn’t seen each other in 15 years,” Donohew said. ”Turns out it was each of our first time going on a mission trip.”
It was an eye-opening experience for all involved.
”Sometimes we’d start the day with maybe 30 kids ages 5 to 18,” Donohew said. ”But by the time we’d end, there was probably close to 250, 300 kids as word spread that we were there.”
Of the approximately 4,600 kids seen during Donohew’s trip, 1,001 said they had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Still, a majority of the locals came out for the opportunity to learn more about their favorite sport.
”To them, you’re like a rock star,” Donohew said. ”Some kids were coming out in just their underwear because they didn’t have clothes. Some didn’t have shoes.
”One group of about 20 kids going from station to station only had one glove, so they had to share it. And if the kids didn’t have laces in their shoes, you could look a little closer and see the laces were in their glove.”
One young Dominican was even more innovative.
”We had a kid the first day who didn’t have a bat, so he brought out a (wooden) fence post,” Donohew said. ”It was 27 inches long and he had whittled it off with a knife at the top and at the bottom so he could hang on to it and swing it like a bat.
”Here, our guys are complaining about whether they like Louisville Slugger or Easton better. And here, this kid just brought a fence post to play.”
Economic differences aside, Donohew found many of the children to be a lot like young Americans when it came to baseball.
”They’re rambunctious,” he said. ”Some of them don’t pay attention; others are great listeners. Some of them hustle, some of them don’t. But they’re all fired up because it’s baseball — something they love to do.”
In terms of talent, there is an obvious gap.
”The raw talent there is better than the raw talent here,” Donohew said. ”A 13-year-old there is head and shoulders above where a 13-year-old here is. A big part of it is that they don’t have computers and they don’t have a PlayStation.
”The first thing I saw when I got there was a kid flying a kite. I remember thinking to myself, ‘When’s the last time I saw a kid fly a kite at home?’ It’s been forever.”
Survival of the fittest
Some of the less fortunate Dominican children received extra equipment the instructors had brought from home. Donohew quickly learned that distribution can be tricky.
”Our first day, one of the guys hands this little kid a glove and he just got drilled,” Donohew said. ”He’s on the bottom of the pile hanging on to that glove for dear life. But there was no way the other kids were going to get it from him.”
When the numbers of kids got too big, crowd control proved to be difficult.
”At the end of our clinic in San Pedro, things got real crazy,” Donohew said. ”Kids started to chase after the bus, while others were actually on it trying to get stuff. It was like, ‘Hey, we gotta go!’ But we couldn’t because there were kids everywhere.”
The fields the groups played on left a little to be desired.
In Boca Chica, the baseball field doubles as a cow pasture.
”When we got out there early in the morning, they were out there sopping up the (rain) water with towels,” Donohew said. ”You knew it was a cow pasture because you could smell it.”
Other fields offered a barren landscape with half-built stadiums. One had frames left in the air when money ran out to continue building the roof. Another field bordered a jail and sat in the shadow of a 6-foot brick wall topped by barbed wire — the only thing separating the kids from the prison grounds.
Yet, wherever the Score International group went, kids came. They would accumulate around the instructors in large bunches, some climbing up on the dugout roofs to get a better view.
After the five-day clinic, Donohew’s flight arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport, eventually getting him home about 1 a.m. Excited to share his adventure with his wife, the couple stayed awaked until 3 a.m.
”When he came back, he was so changed,” Bonnie Donohew said. ”I could tell right away, and it made me so envious. His intensity was so palpable. Initially, we thought he’d go one time, but the memory of those kids’ faces were burned in his mind. It has opened a whole new world for him.”
One of the things Donohew promised his wife after arriving home was that he would watch the things he complained about.
”He said, ‘If I ever complain about the size of our home again you have permission to kick me in the butt,’ ” Bonnie Donohew said. ”Those kids, especially the ones without clothes who came out in their underwear, they left him very humbled.”
There is no need for a flier this time around.
It’s not a matter of if Donohew is planning a return trip to the Dominican Republic. The date — Nov. 18 — already is displayed prominently on the family calendar.
Now it’s merely a matter of who is going with him.