By Teddy Cahill with Baseball America

In the middle of last December, Virginia traveled to Central America for a weeklong trip to Panama and Costa Rica. It was in Estadio Nacional de Panama in Panama City where the Cavaliers began their road to Omaha and the 2015 national championship with an exhibition game against Panama Metro, a team in the country’s winter league.

Virginia won the game, 9-1, and continued on a trip that blended baseball with team-building activities, such as a zipline tour through the rain forest and white-water rafting. Somewhere along the way, the rallying cry “Panama to Omaha” was born.

The cheer proved prophetic six months later, as Virginia completed a surprising run through the NCAA tournament and won its first national championship.

Coach Brian O’Connor isn’t sure exactly when the Cavaliers started saying “Panama to Omaha.” But he said the cheer showed how much the experience meant to the team.

“That’s how much our guys got out of it,” O’Connor said. “They’re so thankful they had this opportunity.”

NCAA rules limit teams to one foreign tour every four years, so the Cavaliers spent this fall at home in Charlottesville, Va. But several other teams traveled during fall ball in what is becoming a growing trend in college baseball. Most teams went to the Dominican Republic, but Penn State and Richmond went to Cuba and Dallas Baptist visited Curacao in October. Japan has also been a destination for some teams, including Vanderbilt, which went there in 2009.

In addition to the baseball component, players also learn about another culture and get a once-in-a-lifetime experience with their teammates.

Louisville was one of the teams that went to the Dominican Republic this fall. The Cardinals played games against Dominican League teams, an experience that will likely benefit them this spring on the diamond. But they also put on a baseball clinic for local children, volunteered at an orphanage and distributed food in two impoverished villages.

Louisville had barely gotten off the plane on the first day before players were hosting a baseball clinic for children in the town of Juan Dolio. For more than an hour, until it was too dark to continue, the Cardinals instructed the children. Junior closer Zach Burdi said the Cardinals were immediately struck by the conditions they found and a greater sense of appreciation of their own lives.