I’ve been traveling to Nicaragua for about six years. On my first visit, I found that Nicaraguans like to play baseball. I also found that the adult team in Salinas-Limon had very rudimentary equipment and no uniforms. They played in an old field that was no longer being farmed. I dubbed it “The field of bad hops and broken dreams.”
That started my obsession with bringing in used baseball equipment donated from my sources in California. The program grew to include juvenile baseball leagues in Rivas. My friends here in California sponsored uniforms for nine teams in Rivas.
For the next several years, I brought down as much used baseball equipment as I could—up to 480 pounds worth of equipment (75 gloves, 60 pairs of cleats, 56 bats , 100-plus balls, and more) in two boxes every July.
For years, I have avoided “paying duty” on the donated equipment. But this year’s trip was different. I spent the usual five hours (of my vacation time) in a hot cage while a Nicaraguan customs agent evaluated each and every used glove, bat, cleat and ball. I noticed that he valued baseball caps at retail $5. (These are old hats that wouldn’t sell for more than $.50 in a thrift store).
By the time he was done pricing everything, I was handed a bill for $575 to bring the baseball donations into the country!
The official told me, “If I came to your country, I would be charged a duty for bringing things into America.”
My retort was, “If you were giving things to the poor kids in Miami or New York, customs would gladly let do so for free!”
I left without paying in hopes that I could find help from friends in Nicaragua. Three days later, I met with the DGA’s supervisor Jury Canteno, but was offered no relief. They did however reduce the “ransom” to $130.
After another two hours of negotiating, the ransom was paid and the boxes were rescued and the tedious task of distributing the equipment began.
I am writing this account to share with readers of The Nicaragua Dispatch in hope’s that someone will see the travesty and injustice of Nicaragua’s duty process. To “charge” anyone who is giving their time, effort and money out of their own pocket to help the less fortunate is inconceivable.
My good friend and an Nicaragua icon Everth Cabrera, the shortstop for the San Diego Padres, also mentioned he had a bad encounter with customs when he tried to bring equipment into Nicaragua. He won’t do so anymore—and that’s a true pity.
I hope that someone may see this and forward it to someone who may care and rectify these absurd customs policies.
I’ll end this as I end my letters for help raising baseball equipment for Nicaragua here in the USA: “Baseball is life and hope for these people.”
Steve Russell lives in southern California, where he is retired from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He studied at California State University and played baseball through “semi-pro (D Ball)”. He has coached youth baseball for 30 years and is currently committed to the Nicaraguan Youth Baseball program. If anyone has advice, please email me at Redsoxcp@cox.net