Oklahoma university pitcher recalls Hurricane Maria
By ERIC BAILEY
Mar. 11, 2018
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — "We will be OK. Don't worry. We love you."
Miguel Ausua was told those words by his mother on the evening before Hurricane Maria struck his home in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico. Following that phone call, all the Oral Roberts baseball player could do was monitor the deadly hurricane from afar as it barreled toward his island on Sept. 20.
Maria reached Puerto Rico with Category 4 strength. The storm and its sustained 125 mph winds took a toll on the Caribbean island, the Tulsa World reported. News of devastation frightened him. His family lived in a small, humble home. Could it sustain the impact of one of the strongest hurricanes in history?
For eight long days, Ausua didn't hear from his family.
"I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I just sat there and watched the news and saw all the devastation," Ausua said. "Obviously, the only thing they could show was everything destroyed. Only bad thoughts were going through my head.
"The hurricane was as big as the island. You could not see the island when the hurricane was going over it. I was really worried about that."
Ausua's second family — the ORU baseball team — provided as much support as possible. They knew how much their senior teammate was hurting.
"It was extremely tough for him. You could tell in the locker room that he wasn't himself and he was worried sick," ORU pitcher Kyler Stout said. "He didn't get to talk to his family and didn't know what happened to them. He didn't know if they were alive or if they were dead.
"We all kind of tried to be there for him as much as we could and tell him that everything was going to be all right. We didn't know either. We just tried to be positive and give him words of encouragement."
Finally, on the ninth day, Ausua's cellphone rang during a class.
"My dad called me at eight in the morning and I just started crying. It was amazing. It was the best call I've ever gotten," Ausua said. "I was the happiest man on earth at that moment."
There was only one spot on the island where calls could be made and his father couldn't get to that area until the ninth day.
"Thank God everyone was OK. My biggest worry was that if my parents were fine," Ausua said. "I live in a humble house, a very small house and that was my biggest fear. My biggest fear was that our house wasn't there anymore. I had a feeling that my house wasn't strong enough to hold through those strong winds.
"Thankfully nothing happened. The house was OK. There wasn't any major damage. The only bad thing was we harvest coffee at my home and my dad lost over 3,000 coffee trees. The harvest of coffee isn't there anymore. He loves to do that. He's going to start over again."
While the downtown Peñuelas area has electricity, his rural home has been without power for nearly six months.
Hearing his parents' voices was reassuring to Ausua. But his ORU teammates wanted more for him.
"He doesn't see his family. He only sees them once a year," Stout said. "We got him a plane ticket to go home for Christmas break. The team, we all pitched in and gave him money to get a plane ticket because of what happened. We knew his family probably didn't want to spend that money on a plane ticket."
The idea was from outfielder Nick Rotola. The school and ORU's athletic department didn't know what the team was planning to do. It came up to about $12 per player to provide the round-trip ticket.
"It meant the world to me because I got to go back to my roots and I got to see my family and my parents after that devastation," Ausua said. "It was a big surprise. I just got super emotional and wanted to hug my teammates and say thank you."
"Sometimes it transcends baseball and that's one of those moments where anything going on there was a lot more important than anything going on here," ORU coach Ryan Folmar said. "We tried to stress that to him and let him know the importance of taking care of what's going on at home and anything we could do for him or his family in the meantime, we were willing to do."
When Ausua went back for Christmas break, he got a firsthand look at the destruction. But he also got to see his family and watch a proud people restoring their homeland.
"To walk around and you see people smiling and working together to get everything working out again," Ausua said. "It just gives you motivation — even though the hurricane just put them down, they got up and are working together to get things going."
Ausua is looking forward to his final season at ORU. A second-team All-American in 2017, big things are expected from the left-handed pitcher this spring.
"All I'm trying to do is play my game, one game at a time, and bring some happiness and joy to my family," Ausua said. "Not only my family but all the followers and people in my small town in Puerto Rico."
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com