HICKORY, N.C. — For the second-straight year, Catawba Valley head baseball coach Paul Rozzelle embarked on a summer journey to Puerto Rico last week on a trip that included faith, family and the future of his program.
Rozzelle, who is half Puerto Rican, left June 17 on a three-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico followed by an hour and a half drive to the small mountain town of Lares.
"It's always good to go back and see people you've developed relationships with — whether that be from a family stand point or a baseball standpoint," Rozzelle said. "To go an represent Catawba Valley is always an honor and a privilege. To be able to do it and to gain some Red Hawk fans in Puerto Rico is always nice."
Just like he did last year, Rozzelle helped organize and operate a youth baseball camp through his cousin's church, Casa del Alfarero.
"The ability to continue to do the clinic is always fun and a rewarding experience," Rozzelle said. "It's a very small base clinic. It's not fully baseball oriented. There is other stuff going on, but to even use baseball for a little bit is always nice. One of the pillars of our program is selfless. One of the things that we tell our players when they come to visit is that I believe we were put here on Earth to serve someone other than ourselves. For us as coaches, we've got to kind of do it, too. We can't talk about it. We've got to be able to do it, too, in some way, shape or form. For me, this is the one thing that God has put on my heart to be able to do."
Thirty kids around the ages of 4-12 took part in the camp, which was held Monday, June 18 through Wednesday, June 20 from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. daily.
"We worked on hitting, throw and catch and running. It's very basic stuff," Rozzelle said. "The baseball stuff is not necessarily the most important thing that we do. We're introducing baseball to them. Even though we are in Puerto Rico and baseball is very popular, it's not in Lares. It was a lot of these kid's first time being able to do anything baseball wise. It was very, very basic. It was very elementary. It was more about just having fun on top of other things they are doing with the church. Baseball was just a tool."
After spending a day with his family on Thursday, June 21 due to poor weather conditions, Rozzelle traveled Friday, June 22 to the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, watching a youth camp clinic at a stadium in Manati.
The clinic was performed by the Academy's catching instructor Dennis Perez, a former junior college standout at Wallace State.
Rozzelle also traveled that day to Florida, Puerto Rico to witness a pro style workout and recruit what could be the future of his program.
Among the many relationships Rozzelle cultivated during the workouts included with Jose Carballo, an assistant coach at Bethune Cookman University, as he continues to develop more connections with schools around the country to help send Catawba Valley athletes on to the next level.
"It was very nice to be able to see about 25 guys work out and throw bullpens and continue to develop those relationships," Rozzelle said. "We're trying to see if we can bring one of those guys to Catawba Valley to play for two years and see about moving on. That's the whole point of us going down there to recruit. We were able to see some guys that we liked that we saw. We started communication with them to see if we could get them here."
Capping off a successful second trip abroad, Rozzelle was baptized by his cousin Titán on Sunday, June 24 in front of family and friends in Lares.
"I've been on my own path with God and Jesus Christ over the last couple of years. The people down there have played a huge part in that path for me, as well as so many people here in Hickory," Rozzelle said. "To do it there and to have my cousin do it, who has played a huge part in my path, it was very, very special to me. To be able to do that and top it off. As a coaching staff here, we try and sometimes we fall short, but we still try to live through Christ and how we coach and do everything. It's an important thing for us in our program. To be able to do it in that atmosphere and be able to come back before the new year starts is very rewarding and exciting for me and my family. I'm looking forward to keeping it going."