Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Wesleyan head baseball coach Mike Shaheen returns to the school in Norcross for a baseball camp and talks with over 100 boys and their fathers about his new mission as a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader in the Dominican Republic Saturday.
PEACHTREE CORNERS -- In some ways for current Wesleyan head baseball coach Brian Krehmeyer, having his predecessor, former boss and friend Mike Shaheen back on campus seemed just like old times.
In others, such as the beard Shaheen is sporting during his monthlong stay in metro Atlanta, it was clear that things were different.
"Yeah, he looks a little rough these days," Krehmeyer joked about Shaheen during a youth baseball clinic conducted at the school Saturday. "But I guess he ... doesn't want to look a little too clean cut. He helped me these last three days in coaching (Wesleyan's winter) camp. It was a lot of fun because we were joking that now he's my assistant."
Unlike the three Wesleyan camps earlier in the week, Shaheen was back in charge for Saturday's camp, which was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which he left Wesleyan in the summer of 2011 to go to work for in its ministry in the Dominican Republic.
Despite being hastily put together, Shaheen and Krehmeyer and the Wesleyan coaching staff welcomed more than 100 kids between the ages of 7 and 13 and their coaches to participate in the event, which included some big name instructors and guest speakers -- such as former Atlanta Braves infielder Jeff Blauser, current Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall and former Wesleyan stars now playing either in minor-league or college ball like Grayson Garvin, James Ramsey and Devin Stanton, plus Providence grad and current New York Mets pitcher Collin McHugh.
"This was somewhat last minute this year," Shaheen said. "We only had a month to prepare. My leadership board and I got together and said, 'Why don't we do a clinic?' Even if 20 people show up, it's 20 people that will learn about the ministry and some good clinicians. Looks like we've got 100-plus in kids and travel ball coaches.
"We raised $4,000. That's going to pay for one year's salary for one of our Dominican FCA staff. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to build an FCA staff in the Dominican. We have four guys right now prepared to do it. We now just have to raise (money), and this just paid one guy. So, we're excited about that."
Shaheen is equally excited about how the first year and a half he and his family have spent in the Dominican Republic.
Though there have been plenty of adjustments for him, his wife Jodi and two kids to make, Shaheen says the experience has been very rewarding for all.
"A lot of times when you move somewhere -- you know, if I got a baseball job in another part of the country, I have a plan in sight, and it's baseball and a school, and I'm a teacher," Shaheen said. "But I went down (to the Dominican Republic), and it's a new occupation. I wasn't in the field of ministry before. ... It's a different country. I didn't know the culture. I didn't know the language well. That has progressed. ... My wife and I, and even our kids, we just had to adapt to a new culture. It's never easy. Add the cultural thing, the language. For the first four or five months down there, we just not only immersed ourselves in the culture, but we trained ourselves in Spanish. Dominicans taught us Spanish because their (dialect) is a little different. That was huge.
"Then after that, it's like the honeymoon's over. It's time to go to work. ... Ministry-wise, we do Bible study and discipleship classes. We spend one-and-one with Dominican coaches and leaders in the community. Work with churches in the area. On the ministry side, but more on the community works type thing, we partner with other organizations. We're kind of what you call boots on the ground. Other organizations are going to come up to you and say, 'Hey, we do these things with water filters,' or, 'We do these things with a food program. Can that help your ministry?'"
But as much as Shaheen has enjoyed the ministry part of his work, he equally enjoys the baseball side, especially in a culture that is a baseball-wild as the Dominican Republic.
"I'm down there to use baseball as a platform to evangelize and disciple," Shaheen said. "You try to build relationships. I'd go to baseball fields in the Boca Chica area, and there are 26 Major League Baseball academies. So, baseball is a big deal in that area. San Pedro (de Macoris) is 15 minutes down the road. Over 80 Major League Baseball players have come from that area. And then Santo Domingo is 20 minutes the other direction. So, we're in a part of the country where baseball means so much."
And as much fun as Shaheen and all involved had with Saturday's camp, he and Krehmeyer are hoping to do it again, and perhaps expand its scope, next year and in the future.
"Things just sort of fell into place, and we were able to put this together," Krehmeyer said. "From the success we're having (Saturday), we now look at, 'How can we build this even further?'"