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Taking Pride to a new level

Butler graduate Justin Stewart talks with a youngster during the Piedmont Pride's mission trip to the Dominican Republic last month.
Butler's Stewart relishes baseball mission trip

Justin Stewart wanted to do more than just play summer baseball.

He wanted to win.

So when the Butler graduate and California (Pa.) University catcher had a chance to play for the Piedmont Pride of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, he jumped at it. The Pride, coached by former New Castle resident Joe Hudak, had been a powerhouse in the league.

“I played for the Concord Athletics in the SCBL last year,” Stewart said. “We played them (Piedmont) in a game at the Charlotte Knights stadium and I told Coach Hudak I'd love to play for him.

“We were both from the same area, so I think that helped my chances.”

Piedmont had won the regular season or SCBL tournament title for a number of years in a row. Only Hudak decided the 2021 season would be a little different.

“I always took my team on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic at the end of each season,” Hudak said. “The Piedmont Pride is a baseball Christian ministry based in Rock Hill, S.C. We opted not to play in the SCBL this summer, to travel to the Dominican earlier, then take a trip to Alaska to play teams out there.”When Stewart was informed about this and offered a spot on the team, “I was all in,” the catcher said. “A trip to the Dominican, then to Alaska sounded exciting.”It turned out to be much more.It was an eye-opener.“It changed my life,” Stewart said. “That Dominican Republic trip was the best thing that ever happened to me.”The Pride visited the Dominican from July 1-15. The team held Bible studies, prayer sessions, put on baseball clinics and played games against other teams. They also brought bags of food down and delivered them to families that needed them.“We played six games down there,” Stewart said. “We won all six. We beat the New York Mets' and St. Louis Cardinals' Dominican teams. They were quality games. But the baseball took a backseat for me.“The Dominican people, the children, they are so willing to give whatever they've got and they have nothing. Yet they are constantly smiling, always upbeat, grateful for every happy moment. It is unbelievable how they lead their lives.“They are always happy and they have nothing. I loved interacting with those kids, helping them, playing with them and sharing their joy,” Stewart added.Hudak agreed.“We get upset if our Internet doesn’t work,” Hudak said. “They don’t know what the Internet is. We have everything and we’re miserable half the time. They are always happy. They know what life’s about.”Slippery Rock University third baseman Abraham Mow is in his second year with the Piedmont Pride, having spent the summer of 2018 with the team as well. This summer marked his second trip to the Dominican.

“It’s incredible how they live,” Mow said. “I saw nine people living in a place where the roof was held up by a few pieces of wood. And those kids love baseball. You can’t help but feel touched by them.”“We visited orphanages, schools, sugar cane villages,” Hudak said. “These people live in rundown houses. Anyone who comes here for the first time … his life is altered. You just can’t look at life the same way once you see this.”The Pride returned to Rock Hill in mid-July and played games in the Carolinas for a few days before heading to Alaska, where the team stayed and played baseball games from July 19 through Aug. 1.The Pride dropped six of eight games, again playing high-level competition.“The Alaskan league is one of the best summer collegiate leagues in the country,” Stewart said. “Many of the best college players in the country play in that league.“I just couldn’t believe I was in Alaska. That’s one I can cross off my bucket list. That state has some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”The 13 players comprising the Piedmont Pride raised $107,000 to fund these trips.Mow said this season was well worth those trips and foregoing the SCBL season.“I’ve become a better person,” he said. “I think we all have.”