CYPRESS, Texas (KTRK) -- Not every kid who wants to play baseball can afford to do so. The cost of uniforms, equipment, and enrollment can often be too much for low-income families.
Joncarlo and Marco Ipina both fell in love with baseball when they were just little boys. Their mom, Irma Jimenez, knew the sport was important to her sons. But once they hit middle school, she didn't know how much longer she could afford to keep them on the field.
"Being in premier teams, that costs money. At that time, I needed to get them into something that I could afford while still managing to pay the bills at home," she said.
These types of barriers are exactly why organizations like Cy-Hope exist. Their Dierker's Champs program makes it possible for students in Cy-Fair ISD's Title One schools to learn and play baseball, who otherwise wouldn't have the financial means to do so in a league setting. They've been around in some shape or form for about 10 years, with most of their players being Black or Hispanic.
"As a parent and as a mom, that was awesome. They gave them jerseys. They gave them uniforms. They gave them their bats and their gloves," Jimenez said.
The program was co-founded and named after former Astros pitcher, announcer, and manager, Larry Dierker. He said the program has been through its share of hurdles, from being completely halted by COVID-19 to losing its field rentals three times over the last 10 years.
Now, the team will permanently have a home after Cy-Hope secured a new seven-acre plot near Campbell Middle School to build their own field. They'll also be able to rent the field to other baseball teams for tournaments and practices to offset maintenance costs. There's even discussion about potential expansion into softball and soccer.
"We can control our own destiny and we will have an asset that, if we can maintain it, I think we can keep this program going long beyond whenever I'm here," Dierker said.
It comes as Dierker sees growth in enrollment every season and predicts they could serve up to a thousand kids in the near future. Before the pandemic, he said they served about 370 students across 18 schools. They're working on fundraising money now, so they can break ground on the new field in the next year or two.
"I will give some credit to the Astros because they've been playing so well. I think it's because these kids are watching baseball games and they're starting to say, 'I want to do that,'" Dierker said. "They need to learn things that you can't learn in a library or by reading a book and those are the things we want to do. We're talking about character. There's a lot of disappointment and a lot of mistakes in baseball. But when that happens to you, it's time to try a little harder."
It's been about five years since the Ipina brothers aged out of Dierker's Champs. But the program's impact is something they still carry with them to this day.
Joncarlo and Marco now coach for a small community league called the Moonshiners, hoping to pass on opportunities they had to other kids. They say the program gave them purpose and a desire to become leaders in their own community.
"It really took us out of a lot of trouble, because we were too focused on baseball, trying to do better and improve," Joncarlo said.
"It always felt great to get that feeling of excitement. Sports was really the thing I most looked up to. It was the thing that kept my head off of the bad stuff," Marco said.
Cy-Hope expects the new fields will be ready for the 2023 season. For more information and to donate, visit Dierker's Champs' website.