Puerto Rican baseball players find home away from home at Jesuit

Puerto Rican baseball players find home away from home at Jesuit

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - No water, no electricity, no school and definitely, no baseball.

That was life for four students from Colegio San Ignacio, a college prep school in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

"It was scary because there was no gas, there was no power, no water, everybody was thinking when is this going to end? And it hasn't ended yet," said Josearmando Diaz, a high school junior who plays baseball for and attends Collegio San Ignacio.

After Maria, the school in San Juan could not reopen, leaving some students without any escape from the perils of life after the storm.

"It was sad seeing where I was raised not the same, but I know it's gonna get better," said Jose "Jimmy" Munoz, a teammate and fellow student at the school, said.

Munoz said after Maria life was scary, dealing with the unknown. And despite the hardships his family was facing, his parents fought hard to ensure their son's education didn't miss a beat.

"They ask, 'Can you take my son?'" said Jesuit High School educator Brother Larry Huck about a call he received in the middle of class a few weeks after the storm. "So that was the first, and then a few days later another one contacted me, 'Can you take my son?'"

Within days, Huck arranged for the boys to make the journey to Jesuit, becoming full-fledged Blue Jays, studying with the rest of the students and joining the baseball team for fall conditioning.

Four Puerto Rican students in all made the transition to life in New Orleans, and while an education at Jesuit may seem like an easy decision for some, for the boys leaving home - especially a home in pieces - is much harder than you might think.

"Being there, culturally, the relationship between the parents and the sons and their children is very tight. So they're saying if you can take them they want their kid to come here, not to be there, and continue with your education, but at the same time they've got to let their kids go," Huck said.

Now four students, miles away from home, are in the halls of Jesuit and training for baseball again.

"After the storm I couldn't do anything baseball related. It was about a month without picking up a baseball, so it was hard not doing what I like to do. It was really hard," Munoz said.

Munoz will be the first to admit that practicing baseball now keeps his mind off the chaos his family still faces at home, and while his mind is rarely far away from Puerto Rico, his new-found life in New Orleans has made quite an impression.

Regina and Greg Guerra made the split second decision to host Munoz for the school year, making him a member of their family, which comes with a first for the high school junior, a brother.

"I never had a brother. At my school I get to play with my brother. It's a good experience," Munoz said.

"We became friends almost instantly. It works, we're cool, we play sports together, baseball. He comes to my swim meets," said Joel Guerra, a sophomore at Jesuit.

Guerra had almost no time to prepare for his new brother, a first for him too, but for the pair with an eye for athletics and who have now been living together for more than a month, their work on the field is becoming natural.

"Just this Sunday we went and played a baseball tournament and both of us were on the same team. That was cool having like a brother on the same team with me and playing along side him," Joel Guerra said.

The Guerra family aren't the only ones hosting a student, three other families stepped up to help, as well as several others in the Jesuit community.

"We probably have five or six more parents that are willing to house kids if they come if they need it, but anything they can do to help. We have someone who has provided them all their uniforms. There are other people who are making sure they have lunch money. The families are hosting them and taking them to do everything that their family does," Huck said.

Munoz and the rest of the students are living life like true New Orleanians. They've been to Pelicans games, snacked at Cafe du Monde, and just last weekend the boys met Drew Brees and the Saints.

"We'll keep him forever, but we're hoping for Puerto Rico's sake that things are better in a few months," Regina Guerra said.

In the meantime, they're keeping his mind as far away from the devastation back home, bringing him to baseball camps at Tulane and taking him water skiing on family trips.

"First they start on the tube and it was different having two grown-sized boys on the tube, and they went flying a couple of times and almost 8 feet in the air!" Greg Guerra said as he described the boys during the trip water skiing.

Even with a loving family, here in New Orleans that's making him feel at home, Munoz still looks forward to speaking with his parents by phone. Even if it's brief, it's a piece of home that keeps the reality of the devastation in Puerto Rico alive and keeps his focus on school and baseball, right where his parents want him to be.

"I'm glad I get to talk to them. I miss them but, it's getting better," Munoz said.

The boys plan to stay for the semester and hope to return to San Juan for the spring baseball season, but Jesuit is keeping their invitation open through the school year if it's still too bad to return.

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