Centre baseball players build bridges in Caribbean

by Matt Overing

Centre College News
Will Kempf, class of 2024, talks with a young baseball player in the Dominican Republic.

Head baseball coach Drew Briese saw improvement in his student-athletes during the trip — and not just on the diamond.

From playing in a New York Yankees facility to community service at a children’s home, Centre College’s baseball team had a whirlwind trip to the Dominican Republic to kick off its 2024 season.

The Colonels made the trip to the Caribbean during winter break — the first visit since 2020 for the team — sharing equipment and running a clinic for local youth, among other service activities.

“The purpose and reasoning behind the trip are far removed from baseball,” head coach Drew Briese said. “This is an opportunity for our players to grow, learn and mature — to break down barriers and have an experience where they’ll get out of their comfort zone. And I’ll say, these guys passed with flying colors.”

For Louisville native and Spanish major Will Kempf, the trip gave him the opportunity to utilize his major in a real-world setting.

 “The first day, we played at a field that hardly had any fences, there were about 300 kids just standing around (the base lines),” he said. “It was a ton of fun, and that was our first chance to talk to the people there. But you don’t need to know Spanish to play catch, which pretty much happened every day.” 

Each day consisted of baseball in the morning and some kind of service work in the afternoon. The first day was a visit to a local orphanage, which served as the perfect chance for student-athletes to get out of their comfort zone.

“One of the greatest gifts you can have as a coach is seeing growth in your players,” Briese said. “That could be personal growth, academic growth, skills as a player — but to see these guys lose their inhibitions and dive in, do a dance party at the orphanage, was unbelievable … I think it gives (our student-athletes) a lot of perspective about the world.”

Learning, leadership and service — three tenants of Centre’s motto — were on display throughout the trip, Kempf said. 

“It was a full circle moment, especially for me as a senior,” he said. “You hear about it all the time, it’s easy to think it’s just words. But we went abroad, we did new things, we helped — all of that came together in a natural way. I saw guys talking during team meetings who normally wouldn’t, or getting choked up at something when they’d rather die than show an emotion somewhere on campus.

“And one of the coolest things too, that emotion has carried on since we’ve been back. There aren’t the same opportunities to get out of your comfort zone necessarily, but I can see the way teammates are interacting with each other, going about their day, that parts of the trip have stuck with them.”

Briese said he noticed a change in team chemistry after the trip four years ago — similar to what Kempf sees now. In 2020, the Colonels raced to a 13-3 start to the season, the best in school history, before the COVID pandemic cut the season short.

“We don’t do this for wins and losses, but we certainly feel the team grow closer,” Briese said. “It’s getting closer to teammates who might not be in your class or position group. The hope is, as a coaching staff, that we have long-lasting and transformational growth that will impact the team and these individuals.”