(Joy Christian pitcher Elias Disla. Photo by Jose Garcia/aia365.com)
In the biggest game of his only high school season, Elias Disla will take the mound Saturday, inexperienced yet emotionally ready to cope with the assignment of facing a defending champ that’s targeting another title.
Disla was forced to grow up a lot faster than his current peer group at Joy Christian High School in Glendale. But his life and baseball story in the United States is still in its infancy.
Disla is just about two years removed from leaving an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and landing in Phoenix in the hands of two Valley humanitarians, Ron and Alice Pearce. The Dominican Republic is well known for its major league baseball exports, but baseball isn’t what pushed Ron and Alice to accept the responsibility of becoming Disla’s guardians.
For the past ten years, the New Jersey transplants have travelled to the Dominican Republic twice a year to continue their mission of helping children receive an adequate education, proper medical care and basic housing through their organization, shareusa.org.
Ron and Alice met Disla during their trips to the beautiful Caribbean country. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the director of the orphanage where Disla lived asked if the Pearceses could take Disla to the U.S.
It was the first time that the director had made such a request.
Without blinking, Ron and Alice said yes.
“This is what God wanted,” Alice said.
Disla saw it similarly.
“This is a blessing that God gave me,” said Disla in Spanish after his team’s second round state quarterfinal victory Friday in Goodyear.
The orphanage’s director believed that a couple of “toros,” a term Dominicans use to describe those who try to exploit young baseball talent, were attempting to lure Disla down a wrong path.
No other alternative
There was no other alternative for Disla when his mother, Carmen, opted to leave him and Disla’s younger brother, Gabriel, at an orphanage.
It was either that or living on a poor town’s streets, being raised by a mother with a mental illness. Carmen did what was best for her two boys, but the heart-wrenching goodbye between her and her then nine and eight year old sons is still fresh in memory.
“That was the saddest day of my life,” said Disla, who turned 17 on Thursday.
As for his father, Disla only remembers his dad’s verbal spats with his mother.
But despite the pain he experienced, he wants to go back home at some point, and for good reasons. Disla and his brother lived in different houses at the orphanage, but he was still able to talk to him and his mother throughout his five-plus years at that orphanage.
“I can help them (mom, brother, orphanage),” Disla said. “That’s why I think I am here (in the U.S). Like they (Ron and Alice) helped those orphaned kids, I can do the same at the orphanages. I can help my mother. I can help my brother.”
Baseball might be Disla’s ticket toward helping him achieve some of his dreams.
He didn’t play in an organized league where his orphanage was located, but he did pitch in games, flashing his lively left arm. Disla’s ticket to the U.S. was punched when his mom said goodbye for a second time and after Ron and Alice jumped a few political hurdles.
Carmen signed off on allowing Ron and Alice to become her son’s legal guardian.
(Ron and Alice Pearce became Elias Disla's guardians in 2012. Photo by Jose Garcia/aia365.com)
Ron and Alice have lived in the Valley for about four years and weren’t familiar with the high schools in town.
Their own two kids, who are 38 and 36, along with friends questioned whether the Pearceses, who are in their 60s, knew “what the two old White people from New Jersey” were getting into by raising a teenager from another country. But Ron and Alice had no doubts.
“We are on the same page,” Alice said. “This is what God wants.”
When Disla arrived in the U.S., Ron and Alice started looking for a school that would accept a non-English speaking 15-year-old student.
The public schools the Pearceses first checked with said no, they said. But Joy Christian said yes.
Playing baseball would help Disla adapt to his strange, new surroundings, but his hardship appeal to play in games during his junior season was denied. But that didn’t keep Disla from practicing with his high school team and sitting in the dugout during each game.
He was allowed to play in four junior varsity games, which turned into an adventure. He balked during his first five attempts to throw a pitch.
Baseball signs and a cutoff man were also foreign to him. But when you are blessed with bat and sprinter speed and can hurl an upper 80s fastball with your left arm, it’s only a matter of time before a baseball field become your throne.
But for Disla, a field and having teammates means more to him than anyone can imagine.
“We (teammates) are growing together,” Disla said. “We are united through the good and the bad just like a family. This is my family.”
Alice and Ron know exactly what baseball did for Disla.
“Baseball was his salvation,” Alice said.
Here and now
On Saturday, the young Joy Christian Eagles will confront a Desert Christian team that hasn’t lost to a team in its division since Desert Christian lost its season opener last season.
But with Disla on the mound, Joy Christian likely won’t lack confidence. Disla’s ERA is hovering around 1.11 and has struck out about 120 batters this season.
His athleticism reminds Joy Christian coach Klent Corley of two standouts he used to coach at Valley Vista High School, Caleb Wood and Nelson Benjamin, who now play for Division I Gonzaga.
"There's a high cieling for (Disla)," Corley said. "It's amazing how he's adapted so quickly."
A Glendale Community College uniform awaits Disla after this season is over, but three Division I schools are also beginning to court Disla.
Regardless of where he goes and the outcome of Saturday’s game, Disla will still have a baseball home.
“It doesn’t matter to me if I pitch my best game ever, or if I lose (on Saturday),” he said. “For me, I have a team no matter what happens.”