The Mexican food they find in Elizabeth City will suffice, but for the College of The Albemarle’s new Latin American baseball players, it’s not quite home cooking.
Still, Richard Marte and Ricky Carvajal, both from the Dominican Republic, and Julio Rosales of Venezuela, have been making a new home for themselves in Elizabeth City since arriving at the start of the spring semester.
It’s a first for the College of The Albemarle baseball program, and a new experience for the trio of players from Latin America who are now a part of it.
The three, along with Andy Herrera of Miami, now rent a house together near the Elizabeth City COA campus, and are looking to further their education and baseball careers while acclimating to life in the U.S.
It’s also a new experience for first-year assistant coach Juan Carlos Calderon, who was instrumental in bringing the new players to the Dolphins.
Calderon, 28, came to COA after three seasons as a graduate assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa and also served as an assistant for three collegiate summer league teams. He used previously-established contacts in his native Venezuela and Latin America to learn about the players, personally watching Rosales play, and initially scouting Marte and Carvajal on video.
“We have contacts there, so that’s pretty much how we get them,” Calderon said. “I talked to them, and they were willing to make the trip here to get their education and play some baseball.”
But in order to do so, they needed qualifying scores on the TOEFL — Test of English as a Foreign Language. Calderon said they don’t have a language barrier.
Calderon spotted Rosales more than a year ago while in Venezuela and contacted him a couple of months later, and then he sent video to COA head coach Milan Rasic. From there, it was a matter of getting his papers in order — his visa, passport.
While he misses his family, he said they fully support his being in the United States. Rosales, who comes from Barquisimeto — in the Venezuelan state of Lara — said his father has had trouble getting to work, and his brother difficulty in getting to school with numerous street closures due to protests.
“It was a hard trip to get here, but here I am,” Rosales said. “It’s a big opportunity, and the situation in my country is really bad, the economy is getting down, too many kids cannot find a job and protests two months in a row.”
Marte, 18, who eventually wants to major in international business, said he had been to the U.S. previously on trips with his family, and said he’s excited to be at COA and in Elizabeth City. He said he wanted to come here in order to “mejor la vida” — better his life.
“I came to the United States because we play more baseball here than in the Dominican Republic,” Marte said. “We can study and play at the same time. In the Dominican Republic, you can either play or you can study. You can’t do both.”
Marte has pitched out of the bullpen, while Carvajal, 18, has seen action as a backup infielder and pinch runner. Rosales, 20, has seen the most playing time, batting nearly .400 while seeing time at shortstop and catcher.
“He’s been a pretty good deal for us,” Calderon said.
The adjustment to the baseball and to the northeastern North Carolina area has been mostly a smooth one for the players, other than missing their families and staying in contact with them.
Calderon has used his background to help in the transition.
“As a Latin American, I was there once, so I know how to handle these things,” Calderon said. “I talk to them to help them make themselves comfortable.”
The food has been one of the bigger adjustments.
“Here in Elizabeth City, we don’t have a lot of Latin foods, only Mexican,” Marte said. “So we either make it or go to get Mexican food.”
Rosales said he, in particular, misses his mother’s repa, a flatbread consisting of ground maize dough or cooked flour that he would eat several times per week. Marte and Carvajal said one of their favorites was a rice and bean dish neither can find here, and Carvajal says he also misses eating mangu — mashed plantains — a popular Dominican breakfast.
But they’ve assimilated with their teammates on and off-the-field, teaching them Spanish and cooking them some of their native dishes.
“They try to speak Spanish, and we make some jokes, and they’re pretty good guys,” Rosales said.
The game, too, is played differently, at a faster pace than in the U.S., they said.
Calderon said if it’s possible to bring in more players from Latin America, he and Rasic will try to do so, though their priority is in finding players from northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia.
“If we get some calls and some contact that there’s some kids that we know are going to help us out, and will be an asset, we try to help them get their education and come here to play ball,” Calderon said.
They all said they want to take advantage of the opportunity to get an education in the U.S. and further their educations.
“It’s not easy for him, because he’s risking his job for that,” Rosales said. “We’re trying to do our best for him, because he deserves that, and all the credit.”
Said Carvajal: “He’s made a lot of effort to have us here, and we’re trying to make him proud.”
Calderon said more community colleges are looking at players from Latin America who want to come to the U.S. to play baseball, but also need work on their language skills. He and Rasic believe they’ll take advantage of their opportunity.
“It’s very easy to play community college for them and start as a freshman, rather than go to a four-year school and not be able to do that,” Calderon said. “The main thing is for them to get their education done, do their two years and then move onto a four-year school.”