Throughout America’s heartland, two institutions have stood the test of time—farming and baseball. That’s not to diminish the popularity of the games that gave rise to classic stories like “Friday Night Lights” or “Hoosiers.” But those pursuits generally end for small-town residents once players head off to college or start careers. Baseball players, however, play on with town teams, eventually graduating to softball. It is an enduring pastime that parallels the seasons of crop and livestock production.
As important as baseball is to rural American culture, that importance is magnified many times over in Central American countries like Nicaragua. There, baseball is more than a pastime. It’s a source of hope and, for some, a pathway to survival.
South Dakotan Craig Severtson lives at the intersection of those three worlds—baseball, farming and Nicaragua. He grew up in a baseball family, ultimately playing for Augustana University in Sioux Falls*. Today, he and his sons raise crops and feed cattle on their farm on the outskirts of Flandreau.
These days, most of Craig’s time and energy are focused on securing resources and making connections for Helping Kids Round First (HKRF), a non-profit he established to help create ongoing, sustainable change among the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.
It started with baseball
Starting a non-profit was not on the agenda when Craig began traveling to Nicaragua in the early 2000s. “Nicaragua is a baseball-crazy country,” he states. “As compared to many Latin American countries where soccer is king, baseball is king in Nicaragua. I had heard about a medical mission taking baseball equipment with them to Nicaragua, and I wanted to go. But they traveled during calving season, and that didn’t work for me. So, I had to do something on my own.”
Craig had developed a passion for the Nicaraguan people when he journeyed to and through the country in the 1980s. With his family raised, and the farming/ranching operation in the hands of his sons and hired man, he started making annual trips to Nicaragua in 2009.
“I would carry as much baseball equipment with me as I could,” he states. “Even in the poorest communities, you can always find a baseball field. It’s the national pastime, and one of the few sources of hope for their youth. What little equipment they have is shared by everyone in the town.”
Craig tells another story that drives home just how important—and scarce—baseball gear is to the teams they work with in Nicaragua.
“We were having supper with Nixon Munoz, a 16-year-old young man and Johnny Alvarez, his pitching coach,” he recalls. “We help supply Johnny with equipment for his academy. Nixon was getting ready to sign a pitching contract with the Boston Red Sox. After supper, Nixon helped us carry bags of gear from our truck to Johnny’s car. He asked us, ‘Are there any gloves in the bags?’ I said, ‘Of course. Do you need a new one?” He answered, ‘Not a new one. Any one. I don’t have a glove.’”
By 2015, it was no longer suitcases of baseballs and gloves going to Nicaragua. That year, HKRF sent their first shipping container of gear. At the same time, more volunteers accompanied the HKRF team on their trips, as word of their unique work spread.
Providing baseball equipment, organizing baseball clinics, and helping communities generate sustainable activities that benefit youth physically and emotionally is making a significant difference. But, as it turned out, baseball was also the calling card that opened doors to a host of other opportunities in sustainable agriculture, rural health care and the empowerment of women.
“This is some of the most significant work you can do,” Craig summarizes, “the kind that leaves a generational trail. We are using baseball as a starting point to help families, and eventually communities, change their lives.”
*On June 2, 2018, the Augustana University Men’s Baseball Team was crowned NCAA-Division II National Champions. From the very beginning, this organization has proudly supported Helping Kids Round First.
Craig Severtson and the Helping Kids Round First team are just a few of the extraordinary people we meet every day at VistaComm. To learn more, visit www.HelpingKidsRoundFirst.org and subscribe to the HKRF newsletter Touching Base. Thank you, Craig, for letting VistaComm tell your amazing story.