Veteran aims to hit grand slam with baseball bat business
When it comes to just about every aspect of life, Juan Baret has a baseball analogy to fit. His deep love for the game goes way back: to a childhood in the Dominican Republic where the game is king. To a father who deeply revered the game and taught his son to play using hand-repaired gloves cast out by other children. To his military years playing in an adult league with peers in the service.
“My dad related baseball to life… there was a lesson to be learned every time,” says Juan, who earned a degree from Wayland’s Hawaii campus in 2008. “It’s a sport where you have to be resilient; you strike out, you get outs a lot. It looks like failure but you have to keep going and learn a lesson.”
Ironically, this has been much the theme of Juan’s own life, taking the at-bats in every season, relishing the homeruns and shaking off the strikes. Learning and moving forward.
Humble beginnings, hard work
Raised in a poor barrio called Pekin in Santiago in the Dominican Republic, where his Mother was a community leader and educator and helped found the town's first school. When Juan was nine the family immigrated to the South Bronx, New York, joining their father who had headed for America five years earlier and having to learn a new language and a new world. Both of his parents worked hard to give their children more opportunities despite his father having only a third-grade education. His mother fought hard to be the first of her generation with a college degree after the age of 50.
After high school, Juan joined the Air Force and was stationed in Colorado, eventually earning his associate’s degree through the Community College of the Air Force along the way. He also became a naturalized citizen in 2001. When he was transferred to Hickam base in Hawaii in 2004, he decided it was time to continue his education. He visited the education and chose Wayland, drawn to the Christian environment that was important to him.
When time came to reenlist in 2007, Juan wanted to make a change, so he left the Air Force, moved back to New York and took that year to finish his degree with WBU online. While training with hopes of commissioning with another service branch as a helicopter pilot, Juan noticed some back pain begin to plague him.
“I went into the VA Hospital and they found a herniated disc from an injury while in the service. I have been in pain ever since,” he said. “At that point my goal was just to not be in pain, so I had to set my helicopter dream aside and focus on getting healthy.”
He began applying for jobs in the height of the recession, struggling for six months before hiring on with the Army Corps of Engineers. Working out of the Fort Belvoir, Va., office, Juan manages military construction projects and contracts.
And while Juan enjoys his work, his love for baseball spurred a hobby that he dreams of making a full-time venture.
A bat is born
In 2011, Juan was deployed with the Army Corps for a mission in Afghanistan. While overseas, he began working out again and felt the tug of the diamond. When he got back to Virginia, he signed up for a team. He found the wood bats expensive and began tinkering around in his shop with gluing broken bats to fix them.
“I knew nothing about woodworking, but I would sand it and glue it and clamp it and I’d be able to use them again,” he noted. “I began getting hits with them too.”
When the back pain flared back up, he figured his career on the field was short-lived. Invited to play in a game at Cooperstown, N.Y. – the birthplace of baseball – he took one of the reconditioned bats and headed confidently to the plate. But the experience birthed a new idea.
“I always wanted to start a business, and I love woodworking and baseball,” he said. “So I thought I’d start a baseball bat company, even though I had no idea how to make a bat. I set out to learn as much as I could about how to do that.”
Turning a strike into a hit
Knowing he’d need some capital, Juan sold his collection of Air Jordan sneakers and military items and bought a lathe off Craig’s List. By January 2013 he had a small shop in his basement and had made bats for his own children. He sent one to a friend and other teammates began buying them, enjoying Juan’s ability to customize the bat to each customer. He called the venture Baret Bats and Gloves.
Now, in just a few years, Juan has moved his workshop into the garage and learned how to build a website to market his business beyond just friends and family. He pursued an MBA at Strayer University with the goal of learning more about the business process.
His dream is to grow the business into his full-time work, to hire other veterans like himself and to make a wider impact.
“I wanted to do more than just make money but to help the community. I want to use my love for baseball, my talents and my education to help others reach their dreams,” says Juan. “My challenge is to grow a business that is sustainable, grow a team and support my family while creating a product that I am very proud of. I feel like this is my calling now.”
Embracing an opportunity
Juan expanded the business to include custom gloves, and his product made its Major League Baseball debut with Venezuelan ballplayer Adrian Sanchez of the 2019 World Series Champions Washington Nationals, to whom he offered a bat and glove while he was playing in the minor leagues.
Having appropriate resources to expand Baret Bats is a huge block to Juan’s dream, and that’s what led him to the 4 Vets 4 Life program.
“This program helps veterans follow their dream, and mind is to find resources or money to grow my business to a full-time venture and give back to the community through helping kids with low-cost supplies,” he says.
Juan is one of ten disabled veterans participating in a contest to win a new home modified to meet their physical needs as well as their business goals. Each veteran will receive $100,000 toward their business and the winner, chosen by vote of the American public, will receive a special home. Votes are secured through donations in the name of the selected veteran and the winner chosen at a later date. More about the program, Juan’s story a voting link can be found online here: https://4vets4life.org/project/vet-baret/.
In spite of his condition – Juan is considered 40 percent disabled due to his service injuries – his business has given him strength and hope to push past depression and set high goals. Regardless of how the next inning goes, Juan says he is grateful for his Wayland experience that spurred his self-esteem and gave him vital skills for business.
“Just taking the courses gave me the confidence that I could do it. That’s the best thing about education… there’s something that will help you find what you want to do.”
Juan and his wife Darianella have three children, Alexis, 9, Alexandra, 8, and Gabriel, 6, and are expecting their fourth in December.
Accounting graduate keeps cowdog entertaining families
If anyone doubts the reach of a beloved storybook character, just talk to Gary Rinker.
“I love wearing my Hank the Cowdog shirt when I’m out traveling. Kids – lots of ‘em in their early twenties – always come up to me and say something, no matter where we are,” says Gary, a 1986 graduate of Wayland.
And while he’s not “the man” behind Hank, Gary is in essence the man behind the man after spending 34 years working for Maverick Books and Hank the Cowdog author and creator John Erickson. And the notoriety that Hank has enjoyed for all these decades is something Gary shares, though he has been primarily a behind-the-scenes part of the adventures.
Internship and more
Gary started as Erickson’s accountant fresh out of Wayland, armed with a business degree in accounting. Since then, his position has included business partnership as well as brokering movie deals and negotiating other business contracts. And like most small businesses, the duties were open-ended.
“I was the only employee for a while,” he laughs. “I’d spend time packing and shipping the books, going to conventions and running the booths, taking sales, entering the orders in a computer at the hotel at night, then ship them the next week and go to the next event.”
It was really a connection through Gary’s mother, Ann – who with Gary’s dad is a 1960 graduate of WBU – that led to the gig with Hank. A native of Perryton, Texas, where Maverick is headquartered, Gary found out about an opening with Erickson through his mom, who happened to be teaching Erickson’s oldest son.
“It was the summer before my senior year and I had to do a practicum for three hours of credit in my field,” he recalls. “I actually walked down the block to see him, and I went to work for him that summer. I did his books and tried to figure out if he was making money or losing money.”
While the summer eventually faded into Gary’s senior year, the work arrangement didn’t end. He took a computer and a checkbook with him back to the campus and worked remotely from Wayland. Erickson would mail bills and other items to Gary in Plainview and he’d pay bills and mail them.
“This was in 1985, so there was no such thing as email,” he laughs.
Growth of a legend
Much has changed since Gary’s first year with Hank. At the time he started, Erickson only had five books written and Gary was a little older than the target market so he wasn’t even familiar with them. Now, some 34 years later, there are 90 books altogether, 73 of them with Hank in the lead role. All are on audiobook format, done like old-fashioned radio with homemade sound effects and John reading his own work.
Gary has created some activities, puzzles and a few games over the years for the Hank fan club newsletter he helps distribute. He has even published his own work, a children’s book called “The Very Best Toy,” which he had printed five or so years ago.
“I wrote that when my daughter was about five,” he said. “She was climbing up me onto my shoulders and it just hit me that it could be a good story.” While Gary says he has a few more books in him, he’s mostly focused on helping Hank get his voice heard.
“The neatest thing about this job is when you hear how much the Hank stories mean to families and others,” he said. “When you hear comments about the great memories and listening to the audio books while traveling, we realize that they provide a lot of fun for families. We often hear that people got their kids to read with Hank books.”
Gary and wife Kim share in that experience. They met at junior college in Altus, Okla., where both played basketball. They transferred to Wayland together, where Kim earned a scholarship to play for the Flying Queens. She graduated in 1986 as well.
* * * * * * *
John Erickson will be making an appearance in Plainview at the Wayland University Store on Nov. 11 for a book-signing event from 3-5 p.m. Refreshments will be served and a variety of Hank books offered for sale. As a special offer for Wayland fans, Maverick Books is offering a special printable game called Hank’s Scrap Time at this exclusive link: http://www.hankthecowdog.com/feature/wayland.
Devotional: What are you focusing on?
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” -Colossians 3:1-2
Where is our focus to be as followers of Jesus? Paul tells us that since we were raised with Christ – that is, that we would have no life at all except for what we have in Jesus – we need to seek those things that are where Jesus is. We are to seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.
We are to be focused and desirous of those things above. Where Jesus is, who Jesus is, needs to be what we desire. When our focus is right, then we are able to live the life the Lord created us to live. Paul goes on to say that not only are we to seek those things above, but we are to set our mind on those things above, rather than the things here on earth. We need a heavenly perspective as followers of Jesus. He needs to be the focus of our lives; we need to desire Him and His way more than anything this world has to offer.
We need to understand that the Lord both knows and cares more than we ever could. He knows what is going on, and He cares for those around us more than we ever could. It’s His perspective that is needed in the world today and especially in the lives of His followers. We are not instructed to make our focus this world or the things happening in this world, but to make our focus on the things above. As we are focused on heavenly things...the things of God...we are given both the mind of Christ and the heart of the Lord, to genuinely meet the needs of those around us.
The world needs an answer from God. It does not need another answer from man-made and man-powered religion. The Lord has called us to Himself in order that we might be involved in His supernatural work. If we are focused on this world, if our minds are carnal, we will never be of any real good to this world. The needs of this world are eternal and spiritual; the answers for this world cannot be found in this world. Only the God who created it has the answers of hope for what the world needs most.
Tony (Lawrence) Pierce earned his degree in 1983 and has served as pastor of First Baptist Church Fountain Hills in Arizona for 13 years of his 30 years in ministry. He and wife Teresa, a 1981 graduate, live in Mesa. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. This devotional is an excerpt from Tony's book "A Life That's Impossible to Live," available for $10 through the church by calling (480) 837.3374 or emailing email@example.com.
From the History Files
In this month’s History Files, we bring a glimpse into Wayland College life… circa 1939. What follows is part two of an excerpt from the late Vernon Jackson, a student in the late 1930s and one of four generations of his family who have attended Wayland. Our thanks to his grandson, Paul McGinnis, on the contribution. The first installment was printed in the October issue.
Before long, he was leading me in a run-down cafe, pointing to a small table over in the comer.
"Hey, Coach," he yelled. "This kid said he is supposed to play for you this fall.
The man slowly turned around. He looked to be a regular at this old cafe, and everyone else had halted his conversation to wait for his reply.
"Jackson, is that you?" Coach asked. "Yes, sir," I said.
"You're early, "he said with that gruff, stern voice I will never forget.
"I'm on my way to see my sister in Globe. But don't worry. I'll be here on time."
"Globe, huh? I'll be driving through there tonight. Need a ride?"
"Why yes, sir, I do."
"Be ready by 9:00 tonight. I'll meet you outside here."
We left right at 9 p.m. and drove through the night. I arrived at my sister's little ice cream and sandwich shoppe around mid-morning. Though my intent was to stay with her and her husband until school started, it just didn't work out. So off I was again. I wanted to try to get back home to Texas for at least a few days and then pack up and head back to Las Cruces to start practice. As if someone had actually heard what I was thinking, a car with Texas license plates pulled up. They were from El Paso, so they dropped me off in Las Cruces at Coach's cafe. Before the door closed behind me, that familiar voice bellowed.
"Jackson, you're early again!"
I chuckled to myself. Coach seemed like a really neat guy. He bought me some coffee and after I told him of my plans to go back to Texas, he insisted that I stay in the athletic dorm for the night so I could get a fresh start in the morning. I thought that was a good idea, so I agreed.
The next morning I put my clothes in the top of the closet so I would have an empty suitcase to carry more stuff back from Texas. I swung by the bookstore and bought a New Mexico A&M sticker to put on my suitcase, then headed to the highway that led to Alamogordo. I hitched a ride on a bread truck to the outskirts of town and then stuck my thumb up hoping to catch a break quickly. Cars from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, even California drove by but none even put on their brakes.
As the hours passed and the temperature climbed, I began to wonder about my life. Was A&M the place for me? Was that bookstore job still available? Was Mary Wilson coming back for the fall semester? Was I doing what God wanted me to do or what I wanted to do? I began to pray and once again ask for God's guidance. "What do you want?" I remember asking God.
By 2 p.m., I was about to give up hope. Maybe God was simply trying to tell me to stay here. Just then a car slammed on its brakes. A familiar face jumped out of the car. It was Fuston, a guy I went to high school with in Spade, Texas. He was a senior when I was a freshman and hadn't seen me since his graduation, but amazingly enough, he recognized me.
"What are you doing out here, Jackson." He exclaimed. "Long time no see!"
"Trying to get back home. Where are you headed?" I asked.
"I'm off to the golf course. I'm sure you'll catch a ride soon. There are lots of cars heading that way."
After a few more comments, he drove off in a hurry to make his tee time. I began to think once again, I was here to stay. I then thought about how far this place is from home. I have no family close by and I'll never see Mary Wilson again. I could somehow manage at Wayland if l got a couple of side jobs to pay for tuition. The professors and staff were so nice to me. I went back and forth wondering yet again what to do. I guess I had been entranced by my thoughts of the future for some time, because I was suddenly awakened by the sound of brakes again. It was Fuston again.
"Jackson, you're still out here. Does your thumb not work?"
Ignoring what he had said, I ran up to him and said, "Fuston, if you would take me back to the dorm, I'll get my clothes, catch a bus back to Texas, and write Coach and tell him thanks but no thanks!"
As the bus was pulling into Plainview, I felt a peace about being back. This was my home. Wayland was where my heart was. I got off the bus and wallced to the campus. Gates Hall was still there standing so tall and beautiful giving Wayland her due credibility as "gateway to the world." I walked through the doors and started up the stairs to my dorm room, when I heard that compassionate yet stem voice of Dr. McDonald.
"Jackson, come in here and get this key to the bookstore." He had seen me come in and was standing by his office door trying not to smile. I ran over to him and grabbed the key.
"Thank you, Dr. McDonald! Thank you so much." I said smiling ear to ear.
"We've missed you the last couple weeks, Jackson. Are we going to be seeing you around for awhile?" he asked as if he knew all the struggles I had been through regarding this decision.
"Yes, sir, Dr. McDonald. God has made it clear that this is the place for me." I said excitedly.
"Oh He has, has He," Dr. McDonald said smiling," Why is that?"
"Well, I was thinking about how ... " Just then through the south doors, she walked in. In a beautiful white dress with her hair just barely touching her shoulders.
"Mary Wilson," I yelled.
And so God, as always, took me by the hand in the summer of 1939 and guided me through all the difficult decisions and tough choices I had to make. I was so close to taking that scholarship, yet God knew what was in store for me back at Wayland. In fact, in the spring of 1940, I saved three rolls of 1939 dimes to buy my Mary Wilson an engagement ring. And consistent with how God had already provided so much for me through all this, he did one more thing. The ring was on sale. So I got $5 back from the $15 I had saved.
Graduate pens story of family's escape from civil war
PLAINVIEW -- While Anita Mamy was attending Wayland Baptist University, few of her classmates knew of the life story that shaped her into a resilient and determined young woman.
Today, her story is on full display with the 2018 publication of the autobiographical “A Walk for Survival: Escaping the Liberian Civil War.” Anita says the project was not only a chance to share the difficulty of living in war-torn Africa – even in the late 20th century – but also a major part of her own healing.
Anita will return to her alma mater on Nov. 1 for homecoming and a book signing of her autobiography in the Wayland University Store, slated from 2-4 p.m. Books will be available for $20.
A 2009 graduate of Wayland, Anita came to the Plainview campus from the Phoenix area, where her family eventually moved after securing freedom from their country. She is currently a social worker, the manager for an unaccompanied refugee minors program with Catholic Charities of Arizona, based in Phoenix.
But back in those college days, her heart was beginning to soften to her own story.
“I come from a culture that just keeps things to yourself, whether things are wrong or you have sickness,” she explained, noting she had just pushed down the pain for decades.
“It all started when I was in Plainview and taking a trip with Dr. (Deborah) Bratcher (former faculty member at WBU). We were having a conversation in the car and I started sharing, though it was something that I never was comfortable sharing with anyone. As we became closer friends, she encouraged me to write a book,” she said.
Anita said she’d never considered that before since she was personally embarrassed by her experiences and did not want to break the privacy of others involved in the escape as well. When she began thinking about it years later – and after she had made a return visit to Liberia in 2013 when her sister died – she decided it might be time. But the first attempt wasn’t fulfilling.
“When I started I wrote in so many different forms, so the first one was in the third person, almost like it wasn’t my story,” she recalled. “After I was done and felt healed and I wasn’t concerned about what people would think of me, something took over me and I rewrote it as a true story in first person with all the details and emotions. It just flowed out of me.”
That second draft felt much more true and genuine, and Anita said her heart melted as the words flowed.
“As I started writing and putting it down, it became a therapeutic experience for me,” she said. “It was like the genie was out of the bottle, and I’ve never felt so well and healed as I have after I finished it and sent it out to the publisher. I was not embarrassed to have that conversation anymore.”
The publication process with Christian Faith Publishing took almost another year, but finally Anita was able to hold her finished story in her hands in late 2018. She is proud of the product, but hopeful that the book sells many copies for a purely unselfish reason.
Anita is dedicating the proceeds of her book to build a school for girls in Liberia, where women still hold less status than in more developed countries. But with the election of a female president just a few years ago, things are changing in her native land.
On Christmas Eve of 1989, the West African nation of Liberia was attacked by a gang of rebel forces led by Charles Taylor through Nimba County. To counter the insurgency, the president sent a special tactical force to Nimba County to restrain the brewing fight. However, the group went on the offensive, attacking and killing civilians indiscriminately. By the time it was over, in just a short time frame, thousands of people had been executed, but that was just the beginning of the birth pain – tribes had been pitted against other tribes. The Mano and Gio tribe members of Nimba County were being hunted and killed in Monrovia, just as the president's Krahn ethnic group was being sought after in other parts of the country by rebels.
“And just like that, being Mano and living in Monrovia, my sister, her family, and I became part of the enemy of the state. To survive, we concealed our tribal identity, endured a series of narrow escapes, and walked several thousand miles to escape Liberia. This is my story and my account of what I saw happened as a child,” states Anita in the book’s introduction. She was 11 at the time.
Anita’s book is also available through Amazon.com under the authorship A.A. Mamy.