Charitable contributions are key for the Houston Crush select baseball organization, which relies on them to compete in more than 10 tournaments per season. Manager Rob Rollans said many of the players on the 12-and-under team come from underprivileged families that cannot afford to shell out $1,000 or more per year, which is typical in travel ball.
The Crushers, as they call themselves, are grateful for the opportunities they are given and try to take advantage with their performance on the field. And they don’t take the help for granted, instead providing plenty themselves.
Since forming four years ago, Rollans said players for the nonprofit youth baseball organization have volunteered with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Along with serving food to the hungry and delivering toys to kids in need, Rollans said the Crushers also helped Houstonians in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by collecting shoes and coloring books for children in shelters in the Humble area.
“It feels really good to give back to the community,” pitcher and catcher Tristan Garcia said. “It’s definitely important to me and the Crushers.”
So is winning baseball games. And the team of 11 youngsters, some of whom live in the Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Heights and Independence Heights areas, do a lot of that.
The Crushers take a 40-20 record into their last tournament of the summer season, the USSSA DFW World Series scheduled for Thursday-Tuesday in Mansfield. They are one of 15 teams entered in the 12U major division, which includes squads from all over Texas as well as Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Rollans said the Crushers have reached the finals in nine of their 13 tournaments this year, winning four of them. They hope to add another title next week.
“We have a good connection,” pitcher Julian Benitez said, “because we’ve all been playing for a long time together.”
The Crushers displayed their pitching prowess and offensive explosiveness during an exhibition game Tuesday against Houston Beastball. Behind home runs by Fidel Espinoza and Ethan Nunez, who blasted a grand slam, they built a double-digit lead in the third inning and cruised to a win.
Along with talent, the Crushers benefit from the guidance and fundamental instruction provided by coaches Jesus Encinia and Chico Espinoza. Rollans said some of the players also train with the Houston Astros Youth Academy, which caters to kids from urban areas.
The team relies on intangibles, too.
“It seems like the (players) that have gravitated toward us, and been successful with us, have something you can’t exactly teach and can’t exactly coach,” Rollans said. “It’s a desire to learn and a desire to play and a desire to win.”
Rollans said the organization strives to teach life skills along with baseball skills, which is why the Crushers regularly do charitable work in the community. Krystal Espinoza, Chico’s wife and Fidel’s mother, said the team also teaches its players about accountability, commitment and leadership.
“I think it just builds character for them,” she said. “Our team helps them get ready for the real world.”
The motto printed on the Crushers’ practice jerseys is “Hustle Hit Never Quit.” Garcia said the players also learn to believe they can accomplish whatever they want, taking the word “impossible” and morphing it into the phrase, “I’m possible.”
Garcia said his goal in baseball is not just to play in the major leagues but to become a hall of famer. If not for the opportunity provided by the Crushers – who according to Rollans charge families only about $250 per year for uniforms and equipment – Garcia might not be playing at all at this point in his life.
“I’m grateful,” he said. “This is definitely a blessing.”