As balls smacked into mitts and slammed into the batting cage mesh, Davis Ortega, 19, tried to explain playing baseball. Except already that was wrong because Ortega -- the Venezuelan catcher with the lightning reflexes, the athlete in the No. 7 jersey with his sights on the professional leagues -- does not play baseball.
"Latin Americans live baseball," he said in Spanish. "I would go anywhere for baseball."
Ortega is the catcher for the D.C. Dynasty Venezuela/Colombia team, a group of 17 ballplayers who are in the United States for more than a week of training and competing. Yesterday, the team took part in the Norberto Torres Jr. International Baseball Tournament, along with D.C. Dynasty Washington and teams from Miami and rural Virginia. D.C. Dynasty Baseball, which put on the event, fields four youth teams of various age groups in the city and expanded its reach this year to Venezuela and Colombia.
At Banneker Field, across from Howard University in Northwest, the players from D.C. Dynasty Venezuela/Colombia stretched, threw balls back and forth and practiced swing after swing.
The purpose of D.C. Dynasty is to bring together young people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds through baseball, D.C. Dynasty Vice President Carlos Chavarria said Friday at a news conference.
For shortstop Andres Cabadias, 19, baseball is a way to improve relations between the United States and his native Colombia, an observation echoed in the slogan of the tournament: "Copa de la Paz," or Peace Cup.
"What we really want to do is promote baseball on a grass-roots level" in the District and Latin America, said Louis Cardona, a D.C. Dynasty coach.
Funded by private donations and the city's Office on Latino Affairs, D.C. Dynasty's programs are free for most players. The organization also provides college visits, tutoring and outings to professional games to the more than 80 youths on its teams, Cardona said.
Before D.C. Dynasty Venezuela/Colombia's game against Miami yesterday, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, a former minor leaguer, played catch with a team member. "Sometimes it's difficult for governments to talk, but if you take culture and sports, especially baseball -- since baseball is a fever in Latin America -- it's different" and an ideal medium for cultural exchange, he said.
At the start of the game, Miami's pitcher struck out Dynasty's first batter. Cabadias, the next batter, made it to first base. In a matter of minutes, three players were out and Dynasty was fielding.
But they were back at bat soon. Washington Nationals scout Mike Toomey was impressed by Ortega and pitcher Jose Ballestas, 19. "The catcher's got soft hands. He's got arm strength. The pitcher's got good delivery," he said.
At the top of the third inning, Miami was ahead, 2-0. Cabadias stepped up to bat. The ball hurtled through the air at nearly 90 mph. His bat met it with a resounding crack. It soared into the air toward left field. Home run. The team broke into applause.
The next batter hit a single. Up third, Ortega focused on the ball as it warped through the air. He swung and hit a home run, leaping at the end to cheers.
Norberto Torres Jr., for whom the tournament was named, stood surveying the game proudly. During his 20 years as a D.C. police officer, he coached youth baseball for 14 years and trained D.C. Dynasty President Antoine Williams, Chavarria and others who are now assuming his role. Baseball, he said, teaches commitment and offers youths opportunities -- but only if they have baseball in their hearts.
And these kids?
"These kids have it here," he said, putting his hand over his heart. "All of them."