TAMPA — Asked when Cambridge's second straight run to the state semifinals came together, sophomore third baseman Andrew Widell didn't need to think.
Widell pointed to July, when most of the Lancers took a five-day trip/mission to the Dominican Republic. The private school kids went into the heart of the country's capital, Santo Domingo, where chickens and cows grazed in the outfield and T-shirts sometimes were used as bases.
"You just saw how much those kids loved baseball," Widell said. "You would give them a diamond and a fence and they'd be happy. Our team was pretty much separated going out there, but we came back together as one. Everyone had each other's backs."
The Lancers' trip to the Dominican Republic is just one example of how they've used the team as a forum to help others.
Three times this year, at different spots in Tampa, they helped feed the homeless. Just last week, players visited bedridden children at the Shriner's Hospital. Last Christmas, they sang carols for the elderly at John Knox Village in Tampa.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, we were about a negative-2," junior pitcher Matt Fishman said. "But they loved it."
For Widell, feeding the homeless hit home as well.
"You see these people whose needs are just on a totally different level," he said. "And a lot of times, they're just looking for someone to talk to. You go home and you feel bad to throw your food away."
But team chemistry was born in the Dominican Republic. They played on the dusty field where Sammy Sosa played as a child. Little kids perched on the top of dugouts. From their bus, they witnessed living conditions unlike any they had seen. The modest dugout at their home field, Doc Nance, could house two families.
The Lancers gave away gloves and bats, receiving glowing smiles and hugs in return.
"That's what made us take off as a team because every guy on the roster has to give something to this team," said coach Rick Shears, who accompanied his players to the Dominican Republic.
Shears echoed the trip has a lot to do with the Lancers' return to state.
"You saw kids who had close to nothing," he said. "And they were laughing and smiling and having a good time. I think it got all of the complaints out of us. It made us humble. We might have complained about Doc Nance before. It's not the best field in the world. But to those kids, it would have been like playing at Yankee Stadium."
Said Fishman: "In a lot of ways, really they're teaching us. They're teaching us to be grateful for what God's given us."