North Bay man goes to bat for young baseball fans in the Caribbean

PETALUMA (KTVU) -- A North Bay man is going to bat for kids in the Caribbean who love baseball by collecting a garage-full of surplus equipment and delivering them to poor island residents.
"It's going to be like Christmas in June," said Isaias Franco recently while stuffing duffel bags with hundreds of balls, bats, gloves, shoes and uniforms. "My bag fees are going to be more than my plane ticket."
This weekend, the entire trove will fly with him to the Dominican Republic, an impoverished nation that is consumed by baseball, but where barefoot kids swing broom handles as bats. 
"It's inspiring and amazing to see that love of the game, and kids out here definitely don't realize how good they have it."
All of the baseball merchandise Franco provides comes from donations. He started calling youth and adult teams, and sporting goods stores in April. Some of the equipment shows wear and tear but some of the merchandise is brand new. 
"These are jerseys are right in line with Major League quality and I couldn't believe how generous," he said, holding up jerseys from Redwood High School in Marin.
Franco is a special education teacher at Tamalpais High School, in the same district.
He's grew up playing baseball, a lifelong fan and was inspired to help Dominican children when he found two retired major league players on Facebook. 
Cousins, and former pro pitchers, Pedro Liriano and Ramon Ortiz, are back in their hometown, Cotui, about two hours from the capitol Santo Domingo. 
Franco remembers when he was  in middle school and wrote to Liriano and got a signed baseball card from him in the mail. 
"And here I am working with him, so I'm kind of star-struck," he said through a smile. "But they're just so humble and grateful and you wouldn't think you're talking to a major leaguer."
Some 200 village kids will get gloves, and the rest of the gear will go to the academy for all to use.
"Now here's something they haven't seen," said Franco, showing off a stack of baseball pants. "They're playing in shorts and jeans down there so to have something high quality to make them feel like a major leaguer is really going to make them smile."
Dominican athletes worship stars like David Ortiz, headed to Baseball's Hall of Fame, after his final season with the Boston Red Sox. 
Of the 800 players in the MLB, about 100 are from the Dominican Republic at any given time, but most are in the farm system, and the vast majority won't be able to ride baseball out of poverty. As an educator, Franco hopes he can provide more than baseball help in the future. 
"We're hoping to make it much more, bringing education, bringing health, bringing career skills, so this is just the first step." 
It's not too late to donate. Franco can be contacted by sending an email to On this trip, he's hoping to cram everything into five duffels. That amounts to about $800 in bag fees, more than double his airline ticket.
KTVU reporter Debora Villalon contributed to this report.
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