Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Fenway Park!

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

On a memorable Saturday night, August 16th, we were fortunate enough to be a part of the Boston Red Sox pre-game ceremonies at Fenway Park.  We had kept the Red Sox up to date on our around-the-world trip, particularly the baseball aspect.  And they had helped us initially with a set of overseas contacts that we pursued to find the right groups to meet with.

Summer, 2008 439 We were lucky in that the night before’s game was rained out.  Our game had one brief shower around the third inning, but otherwise had gorgeous weather.  We got there early, and were able to go down on the field to watch batting practice.  Gibson got Vernon Wells’ autograph, and we got great looks at many of the players, including David Ortiz.  And I for one was relieved to go to Fenway without the prospect of watching Manny Ramirez, and loved watching Jason Bay.

Summer, 2008 461 Before the game, they put a few of the photographs from our trip up on the scoreboard.  I’m not sure how many of the fans knew what the context was, but it was exciting for us to see some of the kids we had given hats and equipment to featured at Fenway Park.   I wish that the many kids we had met along the way could have been there to see their own photos in an American baseball park.

Summer, 2008 465 The highlight of the night for us was having Gibson throw out the first pitch.  They gave him the choice of throwing from in front of the mound, or throwing from the regulation location.  He opted to throw from where the pro baseball players pitch.  The first pitch took place just a couple of minutes before the start of the game, so the park was almost at capacity.  And with more than 30,000 people looking on, Gibson wound up and threw a strike from the same mound where many great pitchers over the year have stared down at batters.  He left the field beaming, and it was a great moment for all of us.

Copy of IMG_2296[2] I got several e-mails during the game from friends who were at Fenway that night by coincidence and had watched the pre-game ceremony.  One came from Ross Garber, who was at the game with his son.  Ross lives in Austin, Texas, and I first met him when I invested in his company, Vignette, about ten years ago.  Vignette went on to be a big success, and Ross and I have stayed in good contact ever since.  He had tracked us on our trip, and it was great to have him at the game.  And they were sitting right on top of the Green Monster, and he was able to get this great picture of Gibson throwing out the first pitch.  Minutes later, Ross caught a home run hit by Alex Rios, so Ross had a great visit to Fenway.

Summer, 2008 468 The night at Fenway was a complete thrill for the four of us, and a great way to end the baseball phase of our trip around the world.  We thank the Red Sox organization for their enthusiasm for what we did, and we especially thank our contact, Adam Grossman, for his interest in our initiative, and his being kind enough to arrange for us to be part of August 16′s pre-game ceremonies.

Check out a video of Gibson’s first pitch or our Fenway Park picture album.

Baseball in Johannesburg!

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Baseball in J'burg 167 We had a wonderful time playing baseball with a group of about 50 young boys and girls in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The head of the program, Mohammed Basson “Ali”, pulled together a fabulous late afternoon of fun baseball for us, along with a great dinner afterwards.  They were incredible hosts, and we really had a great time with them on our first day in South Africa.

Baseball in J'burg 147 We’ve now played baseball in ten countries — Australia, China, Thailand, Bhutan, India, New Zealand, Peru, Argentina, and South Africa.  Tonight, I felt particularly emotional about our little baseball ambassadors program for our trip.  These kids are almost all from the very poorest parts of Johannesburg, and have so little.  Several of them live in an  Baseball in J'burg 175 AIDS center, having contracted AIDS from birth.  The children were so nice to us, enthusiastic about baseball and America, and thrilled to get a simple gift like a Red Sox baseball hat.  There was such joy at this little athletic field in Johannesburg tonight, from kids facing such great challenges, that it was baseball and ambassadorship at its very best.

Baseball in J'burg 021 In South Africa, baseball isn’t a popular sport.  They play a lot of football (our soccer), rugby, and some golf and tennis here, but baseball isn’t on the radar screen yet.  So the progress of this baseball program is impressive.  They now have about 100 kids involved at all levels, and participation is increasing rapidly.  They are located near Soweto and Westbury, two of the most economically challenged areas of Johannesburg, and they have very few resources for their program.  But they are doing a great job with these young players, all of whom seem really excited to be playing baseball.

Baseball in J'burg 004 They put together a special practice session for us, starting at 5:00 p.m.  The kids are all in school, which runs late in the afternoon, so 5:00 p.m. was the earliest that everyone could be there.  The kids first said their team Baseball Pledge, then they all did stretches, warm up throws, practice grounders, and then some scrimmaging.  Most of the practice was under the lights, and their field (Bill Jardine Stadium) is used primarily for rugby, so it lacks the things you’d normally find on a baseball field (backstop, bases, outfield fence). 

Baseball in J'burg 151 Few of the kids have their own equipment.  The program has gotten some help from the New York Yankees, who they said are helping a range of teams in South Africa.  The Yankees have donated equipment and hats, so they’ve really helped jumpstart this program.  They teams aren’t part of Little League yet, but will be joining a Little League here in the next few months, which they are very excited about.  It was great to see this program getting help from U.S. organizations, and we were thrilled to be part of helping them out.

Baseball in J'burg 037 I was impressed by the number of coaches there for the session, as well as the broad involvement of parents.  The head coach, Ashley (in photo on right), was on top of his baseball.  His favorite player is Manny Ramirez.  This coach will be coming to the United States for the first time in July to spend three weeks at a Cal Ripken camp for coaches, and is very excited about the trip.  He was helped out at the practice by a half dozen other coaches, as well as a number of women who do a great job there with the management of the league — not to mention preparing a great dinner for us.

Baseball in J'burg 114 Our baseball session was joined by a group of children from the Sparrow Village, a center for children in the Johannesburg area with AIDS.  This center has some 250 kids, and the issue of AIDS-impacted children here is quite serious.  It turns out that this center has a field and a baseball coach, but no equipment at all, so we’ll be helping them jumpstart a program at their facility.

Baseball in J'burg 022 On our first day in South Africa, we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the country.  We had a very demanding day getting here, leaving on a 4:30 a.m. flight from Dubai, which meant getting up at 1:30 a.m. Dubai time (11:30 p.m. Johannesburg time).  But we were all wide awake for the baseball, and met some great people.  And just seeing all of these young children having a great time playing baseball was worth the challenges of the “commute.”

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You just have to go and check out our pictures from Baseball in Johannesburg!  There are so many kids that you’ll just want to give a big hug to.

Baseball in BA!

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Baseball in BA 540 Normally, baseball people think of “BA” as Batting Average.  From now on, though, we’ll think of it as Buenos Aires!  We played ball today with two great teams in the capital of Argentina, and had an outstanding time.  Our point of contact was Jorge Marcelo Ramia, who heads Little League Baseball for Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.  He and a wonderful woman named Lucia Garcia Labat pulled together the get together, and did a great job of setting everything up.  Not only did we have two teams, a field, and a light lunch, but we ended up with some great surprises at the end of the game.

 

Baseball in BA 618 The two teams that played were the Nichia Gakvin team (a team from an interesting school here that focuses on Japanese culture) and the Club Independiente.  The players ranged in age from eight years old to fourteen, and included both boys (mostly) and girls.  The clouds threatened rain at one point during the morning (we started at 10:00 a.m.), but cleared to give us a beautiful day.  We couldn’t play on their normal field, which is in the same park as the tennis stadium that was the site of the Argentina-England Davis Cup match that same day.  But we managed to turn a nice soccer field into a decent baseball venue.

Baseball in BA 491The game got off to an exciting start as Nichia’s first batter hit the very first pitch over everyone’s head for a four bagger.  It was clear these kids understood the game.  Things settled down after that, and we ended up playing a five inning action-packed game.  They were kind enough to let Gibson pitch the last two innings.  He hasn’t pitched in a game since an inning in New Zealand in November, so I was hoping he wouldn’t plunk one of their batters with a hard inside pitch!  But he pitched really well, including striking out the side in the last inning.  His team, though, got the short end of the bat, in a game that no one seemed to care about the score, and everyone seemed to care about having fun. 

Baseball in BA 629 We’ve found over and over that these programs really take off once there are some expert, enthusiastic coaches (entrenadors, in Espanol), and the BA program had such coaches.   Marcelo, our host, has a complete passion for the game, even though he only began playing five years ago.  And Coach Walter was terrific with the kids, and gave Gibson some great advice.  The Nichia coach was also very on top of things. Baseball in BA 532 Argentina has a number of very good younger players, but my bet is that their baseball program takes off as soon as one makes it into the major leagues (a la Manu Ginobili in the NBA).  It’s a very athletic country, with world-class athletes in many sports, and baseball may be next in line.

Baseball in BA 555 At the end of the game, Marcelo was incredibly kind.  He presented several of us with framed certificates of thanks for helping their program (including the team’s coach Walter, in red shirt at right).  Mine will have a special place on my desk (assuming at some future point I have a desk again!).  And he gave Gibson, Sterling, and me hats.  We presented each of the players with Red Sox hats (ones commemorating their 2004 epic World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals). 

Baseball in BA 657 We had an unexpected surprise set of visitors at our game.  Justice B. Hill (left, between two brothers on the team), a senior writer for MLB.com, came to learn about baseball in Argentina and about our little Baseball Ambassadors program.  And he was joined by Bob Payne of the Seattle Times (below).   Both were really interesting people, and it was great to get to know them.  Justice was in Argentina for four weeks attendingBaseball in BA 464 an intensive course on Spanish, and Bob comes to Argentina  every winter for a couple of weeks to take a break from Seattle’s cold and rain in the winter.  These gentlemen know their baseball inside out, and really added a lot to our experience here.  And watch for a story on the day in MLB.com!

For more on baseball in BA, check out our photos!

Baseball in Santiago

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Baseball in Santiago 044 On a sunny, warm Super Bowl Sunday, we had weather like Glendale’s but a completely different experience from our friends rooting for the Patriots in Arizona.  We played Sunday morning baseball in Santiago, Chile, with a great group of young boys and girls.  Their coach, Luis Hernandez Olmedo, was a terrific host, and brought lots of enthusiasm to his teams in Santiago. 

Baseball in Santiago 006 As best as I could gather (I speak some Spanish, and none of the coaches spoke any English, so I may be off on some of these points!), they have two younger teams (12 and under) in the Little League, one team for older kids (15 and under) and an emerging league for adults.  They seem to be picking up momentum, and there were players at our practice session showing up for the first time (besides us :-) ).   We caught them during their summer vacation, and they adjusted their practice time to better fit into our schedule, so we played from 10:30 a.m. to a bit after noon.

Baseball in Santiago 047 The gathering had the feel of a great family picnic.  Several parents were there, and there were sets of cousins on the team.  They came from all sorts of different backgrounds.  About 1/3 rd of the players all went to a nearby private school, and had parents who were in professional occupations (doctors, engineers, lawyers).  Another 1/3 rd all went to the same public school, and came from fairly poor backgrounds.  And the final third came from all over, and were friends of others on the team, or just had an interest in baseball.

Baseball in Santiago 027 We were dragging a bit this morning, and poor Gibson was running on empty.  Our flight from Easter Island was delayed by about four hours (no reason ever announced), and we got to our hotel in Santiago after midnight.  He got to bed around 1:00 a.m. (normal bedtime is 9:00 p.m.), and so the wake-up call this morning seemed especially early.  As I write this blog at 5:00 p.m. from our hotel room here, he’s asleep in the other room taking a catch-up nap.

Baseball in Santiago 002 The practice started with some stretching drills, a run around the field, and proceeded to shagging fly balls in the outfield.  After that, they focused on infield drills.  As far as I could tell, they didn’t have batting helmets, and only had a few old balls.  So, at least during our practice time with this group, it wasn’t possible to do real hitting practice.

Baseball in Santiago 054 There were a number of young girls at the practice, which was exciting to see.  The team only practices once a week, but it was clear that some of the players were practicing a lot at home.  The big sport in Chile is football (soccer, for those in the U.S.), and baseball is not on many kids’ radar screen.  However, these coaches were terrific, they were excited to be playing Little League baseball, and the players brought lots of enthusiasm to the practice, despite playing on a hot Sunday morning.

Baseball in Santiago 009 The one negative about this gathering was that several of the participants had New York Yankees hats :-) .  We quickly saw to it that they were Red Sox-ized, and we hope to make them long-term converts to Red Sox Nation!  Feel free to check out our pictures from this fun day in Santiago, Chile, with an up and coming baseball organization.

 

 

 

 

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Baseball In Lima!

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Baseball in Lima 154 Under crystal clear blue skies in dry Lima, Peru, we played baseball today with a great group of kids and coaches.  Baseball isn’t a popular sport in Peru, at least not yet, but these coaches were enthusiastic, and doing a great job with some really terrific kids from Callao, Peru.  Their program includes kids from 9 through 15, and they have a couple of respectable fields to play on.  During their summer, they practice six times a week, but during the school year they are only able to practice once a week.

Baseball in Lima 159 Callao is a town located about 15 kilometers (or 9 miles) from the practice fields.  That may not sound like that big an issue, but for these kids, it’s a huge challenge.  Callao is a very poor suburb of Lima, and these kids often don’t have the money to cover bus tickets to/from practice, or even enough for lunch money.  The coaches help out, and they’ve gotten some donated equipment, but this was the perfect baseball program for us to be helping.

Baseball in Lima 175 We were able to set up the visit through the National Federation of Baseball in Peru, led by Karel Asseff.  They have a small office and an initiative that now has several thousand kids in Peru playing baseball.  We played on a Friday morning, but January is the “summer vacation” for the Peru schools, and during their summer these kids practice regularly.

Baseball in Lima 171 We started the practice by playing an exhibition game of about four innings.  For 12 and under kids, they use a hard rubber ball instead of a standard baseball, which took some getting used to.  The coaches would pitch to the players, and they exercised some judgment as to how many outs to allow each side.  The kids got in a ton of baseball in the time they were playing, and everyone had a blast.

Baseball in Lima 039 We then stopped for a soft drink and a sandwich, and got a chance to talk to the players and coaches.  I speak a bit of Spanish, so I could talk directly to these kids, and they were so nice and polite.  It was very exciting to see their enthusiasm for baseball.  They gave Gibson and me their Peru team baseball hats and shirts, which we will always treasure.  Gibson got uniform #1, and we suspect that one of the kids volunteered to give up that number for someone visiting from the U.S.  And all of the coaches (including head coach Jose Herrera, in the center of the picture up to the left)autographed a ball for us as well, which will have a prime spot on our shelf of great autographed baseballs back in the states.

Baseball in Lima 043 We talked to the group a little bit about our trip, and gave them all Red Sox hats.  We also talked about the Red Sox commitment to players from Latin America.  Most of the kids seemed very aware of the Red Sox and their recent World Series win (!!!!).  We had no problem getting the one boy with a Yankees hat to switch over!  And they all asked Gibson and me to autograph the hats, which made me feel a bit like a baseball rock star (well, that’s probably stretching it a bit, but . . .)

Baseball in Lima 056 We then went back on the field and did about 45 minutes of drills, mainly fielding drills.  The boys seemed like they could easily play for the entire day, and were obviously having a great time among themselves, helped by a very informative and enthusiastic coach.  Toward the end, I took over and hit them some long fly balls, which I think gave me more of a workout than it did the kids!

Baseball in Lima 048 As a follow up, we’ll be providing this team with a complete set of baseball gloves, bats, balls, bases, and catcher’s gear.  Given how appreciative they were of the hats (and they look terrific in them!), I’m sure they’ll make excellent use of this equipment.  Right now, they get most of their equipment from hand-me-downs from a local Japanese team, and the coach said none of the players or their families could even afford shoes.  It was just exciting to see these kids developing a real love of baseball, helped by good coaches, and we were thrilled to be a part of it, even for just a morning!

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Feel free to check out our photos from this excellent baseball morning!

Baseball in New Zealand!

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Baseball in New Zealand 045 We had a great afternoon playing baseball in a scenic town called Russell, New Zealand, on NZ’s North Island.  Our point people were Ric and Kitty Martini, who moved to New Zealand 3 1/2 years ago from Hawaii.  Their son P.K. is an excellent player (barely missing an out-of-the-park homer!), and more than twenty kids in total turned out for a fabulous Sunday afternoon practice game.

Baseball in New Zealand 031 The team practices on a nice grass field in Russell that is used for all sorts of sports, including football, soccer, and — believe it or not — a golf driving range.  They don’t have fixed bases, a pitcher’s mound, or a backstop.  But the grass is very well kept and quite smooth, and the field sits nicely on one end.  The program was started by the Martini’s three years ago, and until this year, less than ten kids would play regularly.  However, they’re doing a great job with the program, the enthusiasm for baseball is spreading, and now well over twenty players participate, and they’ll be able to field two full teams for a tournament in three weeks!

Baseball in New Zealand 058 The age range of the children was roughly 10 through 14, with a mix of boys and girls.  The coach brings a great, positive attitude to the field, and combines terrific advice with lots of encouragement.  And the kids are very athletic, so I can see why the interest in the program is growing so fast. 

Baseball in New Zealand 039 Gibson got to pitch and play third base during the game, which was a close contest between the Expos and the Marlins.  We brought them Red Sox hats, and they looked great in them.  They said that the only baseball hat that the local sporting goods’ store carries is for some second-tier U.S. team called the Yankees (I think I’ve heard of them, but seem to recall they folded the franchise a few years back) :-) .  

Baseball in New Zealand 064 My wife got a chance to catch up with several of the parents while I was on the sidelines of the game, watching and occasionally helping to retrieve foul balls.  And I had a particularly interesting conversation with a woman whose family had moved to NZ from the Netherlands, and another New Zealander who settled there after sailing around the world with her husband for eleven years!!  (And we thought ten months was a long time :-) ).  My wife and I concluded that life in Russell, New Zealand, is amazingly great.  The weather is gorgeous allBaseball in New Zealand 076 year long, the scenery in the area is spectacular, the people are super, and the schools are good, but flexible to readily accommodate families that are away for months at a time (often sailing).   Plus, the people of New Zealand just seem to have their heads screwed on right when it comes to what’s important in life.   Such a great combination, and now it’s emerging as a center of baseball excellence!!

Feel free to check out our photos from this great baseball day.

Baseball in Delhi

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Delhi Baseball 011 We flew from Bhutan to Delhi on Sunday afternoon, and went immediately to a baseball field there to play with a great set of kids from Delhi. The session had been organized by our friend Kristie Jochmann in Milwaukee, who somehow found Joel Ehrendreich, a senior official with the U.S. State Department. Joel, his wife Rachel and their two great sons live in Delhi, and are very active with Delhi baseball. They were incredibly nice, setting up the practice, meeting us at the airport, helping us get to the field, filling us in on Delhi and India, and making sure this day was special for all of our family.

Delhi Baseball 008 There were about thirty players at the practice, and a set of dedicated and skilled coaches. Most of the players were 14 years old, and were quite good at baseball. Gibson warmed up with one of their top pitchers and, afterwards, said to me, “Daddy, he throws HARD!!” Little did he know that he was soon to bat against this very talented pitcher!

Delhi Baseball 054 After warming up, the boys played a four inning intrasquad game, which featured strong pitching, smart field play, and some good hits (many with swings that looked an awful lot like a cricket swing :-) ). Then, they players did about forty-five minutes of infield drills, with a coach who hit more ground balls per minute than I’ve ever seen (except, maybe, for Coach Howell in Charleston!). It was a great practice, and Gibson was thrilled to be able to play with strong players.

Delhi Baseball 030 We brought each player a Red Sox hat, and it was terrific to give them to the players after explaining that the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions! They looked great in the hats, and should put them to terrific use. We weren’t able, though, to persuade the Ehrendreich brothers to swap out their favorite hats (Brewers for Cooper, and Orioles for Cal, as in Cal Ripken), but we’re working onDelhi Baseball 084 getting them to Rhode Island next summer and taking in a Red Sox game!

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Delhi Baseball 087 At the end of the practice, the team gave each of us a terrific present — a red travel bag with “Delhi” on it. We put it to immediate use, and it will not only be useful, but will be a fabulous memory of our time in Delhi. We really appreciated this groups kindness in letting us play ball with them, and giving us such a great experience!

Delhi Baseball 071 These kids seemed really fired up about baseball, and practice at length on Saturdays and Sundays. They now are getting the Little League organization established in Delphi, and the Ehrendreich’s are doing tons to help the Delhi baseball program move ahead. The interest in sports in India is quite high, with lots of athletic talent, so it will be great to see a Delhi team in Williamsport someday!

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Feel free to check out our photos from this fun baseball session!

Baseball in Bhutan!

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Bhutan 278 We had an extraordinary morning at the Jigme Namgyal Lower Secondary School in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. We arrived a the school in time for their morning assembly, which included all 1,295 students. The school’s principal, Tshering Dupka, invited us to address the student body, which was a real honor. It was so impressive to see all these great kids dressed in the standard clothing of the Bhutanese.

Bhutan 153 After the assembly, the principal of the school gave us an overview of his school and the status of education in his country. Bhutan realizes that it’s behind much of the world in education and commerce, and is making a real push to develop world-class education. It’s free for all children in the country, and most children go to school for at least ten grades. The principal said that most of the children in his school go on to college, and almost 50% attend a college in another country. Also, this school has more girls than boys attending, which isn’t the norm for much of Asia.

Bhutan 171 Our advance baseball “scouting report” on the children at this school was that they are good athletes, but had only played baseball once before. I was a little nervous about working with kids with limited experience, so I brought some whiffle balls. I’ve seen the damage a hard baseball can do to the uninitiated, and figured whiffle balls would be safe. Well, once the kids started playing, it was evident that they had great baseball talent, and the whiffle balls never came out!!!

Bhutan 210 Boy, these kids could hit. And hit. And hit. I’ve never seen so many pounded balls in my life. They hit as though they spent hours each week in a batting cage (and, trust me, there are NO batting cages within thousands of miles of Bhutan). I asked if they played lots of cricket, but their main sports are basketball and football (our soccer). Maybe it’s something in the drinking water in Bhutan, but the batters just sent pitch after pitch deep into the outfield. And, given that I was doing the pitching, I felt lucky to come through without a baseball planted in my forehead! Their throwing and catching isn’t nearly so far along, but I was stunned to see kids with little baseball experience so good at something as difficult as batting.

Bhutan 212 The school is committed to athletics for its students, and is planning to add baseball to the sports programs it sponsors. This team will immediately be the best in their nation! The kids were so enthusiastic about baseball, and it’s great that the school gives them encouragement and support for sports. We brought them a full set of baseball equipment (bats, balls, bases, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, and gloves) so they have the means to develop their skills. Our box with Red Sox hats didn’t arrive in time for the morning’s baseball, but somehow made it to Thimpu that afternoon, and we delivered them the next morning (see picture below, where I’m giving hats to Head of School Tshering Dupka.

Bhutan 297 While there is lots of enthusiasm for baseball at the school, their athletic director, Pema Dorji understandably has no baseball background. He made a suggestion which I’m going to think hard about. He asked if there would ever be the possibility that someone like him could attend a program to train coaches. He clearly is excited about baseball, but knows he needs more experience at running a baseball program. The idea of bringing a good-sized group of overseas coaches (many of whom we’re meeting this year) for a week-long program on coaching skills, perhaps tossing in attending a Major League Baseball game, is very intriguing.

Bhutan 205 I want to express special thanks to our friend and colleague, Kristie Jochmann, who somehow found this great school in Bhutan and organized a baseball get together for us. She is so creative, but also so amazing at making these things happen. Also, we got great support from a terrific non-profit in Philadelphia, Pitch In for Baseball, who helped us get baseball equipment to the school. I could go on for ten pages on the challenges posed by in shipping things to these countries and getting them through customs. Somehow, it ought to be easy for Americans traveling abroad to give things to children in the countries we visit, but that’s not the case today.

Click here to see our slides for Baseball in Bhutan.

Baseball in Bangkok!

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Baseball in Bangkok 112 We had a doubly great baseball day today in Bangkok, Thailand. For starters, we got up early and watched the first part of a Red Sox blow-out win against Cleveland. On to game #7 tomorrow! And then we drove out to a set of fields in the suburbs of Bangkok for an extraordinary morning of baseball.

Baseball in Bangkok 022 Through the great stateside assistance of Kristie Jochmann, along with help from the Red Sox and the Little League is identifying teams, we contacted a group in Bangkok, Thailand, that plays baseball. The last thing I expected, though, was to find about 125 players at an “off season” practice on a Sunday morning, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. The team holds its practices at fields at the site of a Japanese-based company, Minebea, that has a big facility in Thailand. Minebea, which makes electronic components and ball bearings, sponsors the team, which includes several very qualified coaches (Isao Aoyama, Koichi Suzuki, and Sugie Masatoshi) and a large number of talented and enthusiastic young boys and girls, from age 7-18. They compete in the Little League and take their baseball seriously.

The teams include both children from Thailand and Japanese children in Thailand in conjunction with the company Minebea. The coach indicated that about 1/3rd of the kids playing were Japanese, and the other 2/3rds were Thai. The mix was interesting to observe, and we found that the Japanese players were particularly tuned into professional baseball, and knew a fair amount about Major League Baseball.

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Baseball in Bangkok 026 They play on a huge field, and divided up into the four corners, with different ages playing in groups. The oldest kids played on a field with three parallel batting cages, all used concurrently! We didn’t play with this group, but my sense is that they were quite good. I chatted with one of their players over lunch (who spoke perfect English), who said most of them have been playing together for several years.

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Since this was an off-season practice, the coaches focused on conditioning. So the kids ran — a lot. Gibson said he’s never run so much in his life. And they did all sorts of stretching and other physical exercises. It was a hot morning (Bangkok is in the tropics), and the kids all played pretty much non-stop for three hours.

Baseball in Bangkok 067 At the end of the practice, we said a big thank you to the coaches and players for letting us play with them and learn about their program. And we gave them all Red Sox hats — over 100 in all! The kids were incredibly polite and thankful, and they looked like dream kids to coach. And many of them were aware of the Red Sox, especially Daisuke Matsuzaka. So we asked them to root for the Red Sox and Dice-K the next day in Game #7 against Cleveland. Let’s hope Thailand can send the Red Sox a little added kharma!!

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We then joined the team for lunch after the practice. Several parents were there, and they (and it looked like Minebea may have made personnel available to help with lunch) prepared a great meal for a large group. We also got a chance to spend some more time with the players and their families, which was really fun. It was impressive to see so much interest in baseball here in Thailand, as well as a major corporation like Minebea doing so much to help the program!

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For our photos from this fun day, go to:

http://dintersmith.phanfare.com/album/454924/633526

Baseball In Shanghai

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Baseball in Shanghai 014 We were very fortunate to be able to join a great group of college students at East China Normal University for an afternoon of baseball. This enthusiastic initiative is led by Coach Pan Wen (nickname “Goose”) who has more than fifty students playing baseball well and regularly, despite the challenge of not having a field!

Baseball in Shanghai 002 There are three men’s teams and one women’s softball team who play regularly at the University, and have occasional games with other teams. We met on a school holiday and there were about forty students there! Our daughter Sterling played catch with some of the women, who were very nice to her.

Shanghai 208 Gibson played in an intra-squad scrimmage, and got a chance to pitch an inning. It wasn’t an easy challenge, since he was pitching from 60 feet, there was no mound, and the next thing after the catcher was a sidewalk and building (with glass windows!). He really loved the chance to pitch in a game, though, and it was very nice of the team to let him come in and participate at that level. He then played second base, and got a few at bats against some very good pitchers. Their best pitcher has a wind-up like Dice-K’s, which was fun to observe.

Shanghai 224 We brought Red Sox hats for the players, and they looked great in them. They could also use a bunch of equipment, and we’re going to try to help them out with some balls, bats, catcher’s gear, and bases. They bring such enthusiasm to the sport, and many of the player’s showed lots of talent. Also, baseball seems to be a great match for the Chinese culture, since it’s a very team-oriented sport and requires real focus and thinking. A challenge for any kid or group interested in any field sport in China, though, is the lack of available fields to play on. We’ve had to work like dogs on our China segment just to find somewhere that we can throw a ball, and have had to improvise at many spots.

Baseball in Shanghai 012

It was also fun to see a half dozen women on the field practicing. They were clearly excited about baseball, and appear to have a very good softball team. I’m a big fan of sports for women, so seeing talented young Chinese women excited about this great sport was really inspiring.

Shanghai 229 Our baseball experience in Shanghai was quite different from that in Adelaide or Beijing. The teams in Adelaide and Beijing were quite “professional,” with consistently talented players, great equipment, outstanding facilities, and excellent coaches. The fields in Adelaide and Beijing, for instance, were better than any baseball field (other than Fenway) that we’ve played on in the U.S. In Shanghai, it had much more of the feel of a bunch of young adults just hanging out on a holiday, playing baseball, and having fun — despite lots of challenges from the lack of a facility.

Baseball in Shanghai 029 All in all, our time with the team at East China Normal was a real highlight of our time in China, and we wish Coach Goose and his great group of players all the best as they build a fun baseball activity in Shanghai! To see photos of this fun day, go to our photo album at:

http://dintersmith.phanfare.com/album/394279/605954#imageID=28099149