MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The images and personal accounts coming out of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria have inspired members of Alabama State University's baseball team to take action to provide assistance and aid to victims.
Head coach Jose Vazquez and six of his players are from Puerto Rico, as well as other coaches, and they all have family on the island affected by the hurricane.
"There's no power, no water. They're standing in line for five, six hours to get $20 of gas. It's getting so frustrating for everyone," Vazquez said. "It's devastation, total devastation."
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Alabama State baseball took part in an effort started by Todd Whitting, the baseball coach at the University of Houston. So when Hurricane Maria struck and impacted their loves ones in Puerto Rico, they discussed ways to help with members of the coaching staff.
Vazquez went to the administration about putting together a donation drive and the university was supportive.
"One of my players said, 'Coach we need to get involved.' And I 100 percent agreed. The response was overwhelming. The entire team wanted to help. So we started that initiative and softball is also going to help us. Bottom line is that things are not good where we're from and we want to help," Vazquez said.
Joseph Estrada, an outfielder, and Gian Carlo Jimenez, a pitcher, are focused on baseball and their studies at Alabama State University, but their hearts are with their families in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria's devastating wrath.
"There's a lot of people that lost their houses including a member of my family and it's been tough," Estrada said. "My uncle lost everything and he's dealing with a lot of things right now and it's hard. It's hard to recover. It's hard to see people suffering in Puerto Rico so that's why we're doing this. That's why we want to help."
"The whole house has been flooded where my grandparents live and the house I used to live in over there. It's really sad but they're fighting and they have a good spirit so I think they're going to be alright but they're struggling right now," Jimenez added. "They said maybe a year until some of the communities get energy. But maybe I can bring a little peace and if I can make a few people smile, that's enough for me."
The baseball and softball programs are teaming up next week at their respective facilities to collect and distribute as many donated items as possible to the citizens of Puerto Rico affected by the flooding.
Donations will be accepted at three locations around the Alabama State University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics beginning Thursday morning. Donations will be accepted from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Wheeler-Watkins Baseball Complex. The donation location will move over to ASU Stadium at each entry gate to the stadium for Thursday's night football game against Alcorn State, with gates opening at 4:30 p.m. The donations will continue on Sunday, as the Alabama State softball team will host a pair of teams in fall competition –Talladega and Tuskegee – beginning at 11 a.m.
"It's a time to help people. Things are as bad, maybe worse than they've seen on TV. People are struggling over there so we're going to put as many things as we can together and try to send them over to the people who need them the most," Coach Vazquez said.
Suggested items needed in Puerto Rico include the following: batteries (mostly C and D), flashlights, first aid supplies, bottled water, canned food, personal hygiene items, feminine care products, baby care items (diapers and baby formula), mosquito repellent, battery-operated fans, cleaning supplies and garbage bags.
Vazquez said he's proud to see his players giving back to those in need during the difficult recovery ahead.
"It shows what kind of student athletes we're recruiting. It's more than just baseball and it shows the character of ASU. We're a family. It's a great institution and I couldn't be any prouder. When things like that happen, you know you have a united team. You know it's going to be a good year for us because this early in the fall, we're already doing things that united teams do," he added.
On Friday night, the ASU Theatre and Dance Department is also hosting a concert and collection drive to aid victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
The University will be collecting basic supplies and monetary donations for its "Project Nobody Left Behind" initiative, a hurricane relief drive and concert to help rebuild shattered communities in Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Anyone can drop off supplies starting at 6 p.m. and a concert featuring faculty, staff and students from the ASU Theater and Dance Department will follow at 7 p.m. Both events are at ASU's Leila Barlow Theater in the Tullibody Fine Arts Building, 845 S. Jackson St. Admission to the concert is a donation of supplies or money.