Opening Day of the Latin American Baseball Classic, Nkosi Djehuti-Mes was in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, playing his first game on foreign soil after a baseball-filled summer.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound star of the 14-and-under American team stepped to the plate in the last inning of regulation. With two outs, the bases loaded and the score tied, Djehuti-Mes was in position to knock in the winning run.
“Everyone in the village was out, the music was blaring, people were cheering and screaming,” Djehuti-Mes said. “I struck out swinging on a 10-pitch at-bat. It was a real battle.”
There were no outward displays of emotion, no tosses of the helmet; that’s not the style of this humble young man. But the ballplayer wanted redemption.
With the game still tied in extra innings, Djehuti-Mes was bouncing off third base with no outs. A pitch got by the catcher, but only by a few feet, and conventional baseball wisdom dictated that the base runner remain at third.
“Everyone was telling me not to go,” Djehuti-Mes said. “I started running as hard as I could. I slid into home and made it safely.”
In the second game of the tournament, the powerful outfielder-pitcher followed up his walk-off steal in the first game with the more traditional walk-off homer.
Reflecting on the experience, Djehuti-Mes said that it was the people he met in this impoverished country that left a greater impact on him than the late-inning heroics.
“It was eye-opening, the poverty, seeing kids walk around with either shoes that didn’t match or no shoes at all,” Djehuti-Mes said.
Djehuti-Mes, the lone Bay Area representative on the team, donated one of his two bats to the grateful village children.
“They asked for his cleats,” said Alade Djehuti-Mes, Nkosi’s father who accompanied his son on the trip. “But when they found out that they were size 16, they said no, never mind, too big.”
Djehuti-Mes, who will turn 15 in November, played on one under-19 team over the summer and has been invited to join three separate under-18 teams this fall. The St. Ignatius sophomore is busy after school and on Saturdays playing football for the Wildcats, but he is focused on hitting the diamond on Sundays.
“Baseball is my future,” Djehuti-Mes said, who has his eyes set on the major leagues after earning a degree at a Division I school, perhaps at Stanford or Cal.
PARTICIPANTS: Teams from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and United States competed in the tourney in early August.
AMERICANS: Several hundred across the country tried out for the team, with 13 players landing a spot on the final squad.
TOURNAMENT: The U.S. team finished with a 4-1 record, dropping the final game to a team representing host Dominican Republic.
DJEHUTI-MES’ STATS: Batting average: .500; on-base percentage: .714; stolen bases: 7