Nov. 22, 2008
By JERRY HILL
Baylor Bear Insider
Forget the old coaching cliché that there's no "I" in team. This wasn't even about the team.
"We weren't really a baseball team going down there," Baylor junior outfielder Aaron Miller said. "We were just another 40 pair of hands."
In a joint project with Christians Organized for Relief Efforts (CORE), the Baylor baseball team's "40 pair of hands" went to the Gulf Coast two weeks ago and completely gutted four houses in League City, Texas, that were destroyed in the floods created by Hurricane Ike.
"It was definitely an eye-opening experience," said Miller, who grew up 30 minutes from League City in Channelview. "You see it on TV, and you kind of think about it. But once you get down there, and you're right there in it, you feel all the mildew, all the rotten drywall, and you go in and see everything completely destroyed. You don't really capture the feeling until you get down there and get in the middle of it."
There was no class system or positions of status. Projected high draft picks like pitchers Kendal Volz and Shawn Tolleson were working alongside true freshmen like infielder Joey Hainsfurther and pitcher Logan Verrett.
No one was assigned to specific tasks or even selected for hand-picked teams. As they got off the bus and separated among the four houses, it was "literally as random as it could get," coach Steve Smith said.
"I think once they got there, they realized how much they were needed," he said. "And the thing that was the most amazing to me is just the way it happened. Even though the CORE guy walks through the house and says, `All right, we've got to get the sheetrock out of here, we've got to get the flooring out of here, we've got to get the garage done first,' there were no assignments made.
"You're not going around to eight or 10 guys and saying, `OK, you two guys do this, you two guys do that.' None of that. It just happened. Guys just started looking for something to do. It might be literally the closest thing they're standing next to, or it might be the thing that they enjoy doing the most."
Starting on Saturday morning, the four groups began ripping out all the sheetrock, drywall, carpet and flooring destroyed by the floods. Without the aspirators that were distributed to each worker, they wouldn't have been able to stay in the houses for more than a few minutes at a time. Two months after the hurricane, the stench was unbearable.
"We were taking the refrigerator out of one of the houses," Smith said. "And when it turned over, it didn't matter where you were, that whole house cleared out."
Three years earlier, following Hurricane Katrina, Smith remembers how taxing the cleanup job was at his family home in Gulfport, Miss.
"After several hours of working, you look around, and it just doesn't look like you've gotten a whole lot done. It's overwhelming," Smith said. "I'm staring at this guy from here in Waco, who had driven all the way to Gulfport to help. And the guy looked at me and said, `You know how you eat an elephant?' I just stared at him. And he said, `One bite at a time.' That's kind of what the experience was like down there. You're overwhelmed. You work and work and work, and it doesn't like you've got a whole lot done. But then at the end of the day, and especially at the end of two days, you can look back and see where you made a difference."
By the end of the second day, all but one of the houses were completely gutted and sanitized, waiting to be repaired and refurbished on the inside. The fourth house just needed to be sanitized. "I was just very proud of the way they worked," Smith said. "Because when you get right down to it, it's a lot of work."
To a man, the players were exhausted at the end of the two days. But it was a good tired. On Friday and Saturday nights, they slept on pallets on the gym floor of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church that serves as a base for the CORE relief group.
"A lot of times when we get to hang out with each other, we're here at the field or maybe back at the apartment watching TV," Miller said. "But this kind of goes back to high school. You get to see a different side of everybody. Baseball doesn't play a part of it anymore. It's really just helping out a guy tear out a wall or something like that. So you get to bond a little bit differently. You get a little closer."
Although Miller said it "transcended the whole Baylor baseball thing," going through the experience is something that could pay dividends during the season.
"In my mind, you don't do those kinds of things to help you win a game," Smith said. "You do it because you can and you should. But I do think there's other impacts. Every team is clearly going to get challenged in their seasons. And I think the more time you've spent with each other, the more you've got invested in the relationship, the more determined you're going to be. I don't think there's any question that individually it had an impact on all of us. But collectively, it's an experience that you will always share."
Another unexpected benefit was gaining a few more fans. At one of the houses, a confessed lifetime LSU fan said, "I'm going to cheer for the Bears now." Smith said he's even received e-mails from other volunteer groups that were down there, "just letting me know the impact that (the Baylor baseball players) had on them. Obviously, those people down there will be fans of anybody that shows up right now."
Miller said that seeing the utter devastation and desperate need of the people have made him appreciate what he's got.
"It opens up your eyes and you start to realize, man, I've really got it good," he said. "I'm getting to go to school at Baylor. I'm living in a $400 or $500-a-month apartment that I have no complaints about. I get to come up here and get free bats, free gloves. I basically have everything I need. It wakes you up and makes you realize that I should be a little more appreciative of everything that I've been given."