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Posts Tagged ‘Peace Corps’

Who wants to learn how to play baseball?

Every boy in the classroom raised his hand.  The Peace Corps wants me to do what the community wants.  If that’s what they want …

I was surrounded by kids as I walked onto the soccer field.  I had a plastic bag with six tennis balls, one baseball and a bat.  They were all reaching for the balls, but I wanted to get a quick vocabulary lesson in first.  I taught them the words for bat, ball, throw and catch.  They weren’t listening.  They had their eyes on the bag of balls like a hungry dog hoping you can’t finish that hot dog.  I handed out one ball for every four kids and kept the baseball to myself, knowing it wasn’t safe.  Somewhere in the chaos, someone took my bat.  I wanted them to learn to catch and throw before I got the bat out, but they would have none of it.

A lot of the kids could throw and catch a lot better than I expect from the land of soccer.  I played with a group of them and made the mistake of throwing a fly ball as high as I could.  After that all they wanted me to do was throw the ball 100 feet in the air.

Soon enough there was a group of kids hitting tennis balls with the bat.  I stepped in to show them how to hold the bat and to make sure there was plenty of space for the batter with the fear of some Thai kid getting his head cracked.  But then I remembered it wouldn’t be a big deal as the Thais aren’t the suing type and there’s universal healthcare – what doesn’t kill us…

Then, I had to do it.  It would be a shame to go an entire “summer” and not hit a baseball.  I told all the kids to stand back as I pulled the baseball out of my pocket and made sure there was no one in the first 100 feet of me in case I topped it.  I didn’t.  I crushed a deep fly ball, but there a few kids in its trajectory.  Don’t hit the kids.  Don’t hit the kids.  Don’t hit the kids, I said to myself.  It didn’t.  It landed safely about 30 feet past them.  It felt good and helped dissolve some homesickness.

After playing catch with some other kids for a few minutes, I looked to the kids who were batting just in time to see the pitcher about to throw the baseball.  I yelled to stop him before he pitched it and told everyone we would need gloves to play with the real baseball.  There was at least one kid who appreciated using tennis balls instead of baseballs when a line drive hit him dead in the face.  Luckily, he was laughing before he hit the ground as was everyone else.  I helped him up.

Eventually I assigned three or four kids to catch throws in from the outfield while I hit fungoes.  For 15 minutes I hit fly ball after fly ball to giggling Thai children.  I started hitting hard grounders to some of the kids who were closer and they did a great job blocking the ball having experience as goalies.  I taught them that the balls in the ground are called grounders and soon a half-dozen kids were yelling, “Ground-ah!  Ground-ah!”

Then I started pitching and found some good hitters – especially for their first day.  One of the little kids in particular was hitting everything I threw at him.  I would occasionally throw a real fastball at him and he managed to connect with a few of them.  I was impressed.

Then the downside of Thailand walked onto the field – grown men.  There were about six guys in their early to late twenties who planned to play soccer.  The kids didn’t seem to mind, but I did.  I wasn’t there to teach grown whiskey-drinking, immature men how to play baseball.  After playing along for a little while, I decided I wasn’t going to let these guys show up the kids so I pitched nothing but hard fastballs at them.  They rarely connected.  I even threw a brushback pitch to one guy, but I don’t think he knew the significance.

When I told the kids I was leaving and would come back next week, they said thank you – in English.  I haven’t taught them Thank you.  I was touched.

They know how to throw, catch, pitch and hit.  Next lesson: the balk.

Take a good look – there could be future major leaguers in this pile.
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Note to Triple In the Gap readers: I have joined the Peace Corps and have been living in Thailand since January and will be here until around opening day, 2013.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Living without baseball hasn’t been as difficult as I thought.  The number one question I was asked from friends and family before I left was, “What are you going to do without baseball?”  This made me wonder if people thought I was so shallow that all I thought about was baseball.  No, I also enjoy good literature and films like Shoeless Joe and The Natural.

Like all the other luxuries I enjoyed in the states (peanut butter, toilet paper, comfortable weather, libraries with English books) I don’t miss what I don’t have.  If I was in the states and was barred from going to baseball games, then I’d miss it.  But there’s no one here asking me if I saw the play that Denard Span made last night or what a great time they had at the Saints game, so I’m apathetic.

Honestly, I am!

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry

However, I am getting small fixes now and then through the games I have saved on my computer and the computer game Baseball Mogul (I’m currently playing a full season as the Billy Martin-led Twins of 1969.)  As for reading the news on the internet, I’m pretty satisfied simply checking the Twins box score and then the standings to see what team’s been hot lately (as of today, the Twins!).

Now that the season’s in full swing, I keep getting the comment, “It’s a good thing you’re not here with how bad the Twins are.”  I strongly disagree.  No, I don’t want to go back just to see a Twins game, but I have honestly missed bad Twins teams over the last decade.  We Twins fans have been spoiled.  We are not Yankees fans – we do not need to go to the World Series to be satisfied with our team.  We take what we get and I think the last decade has spoiled us  to the point where they’re a little more like Yankees fans, but still light years away from their egotism.

“This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.” – Bill Veeck

Last season was frustrating for me.  For my entire life I could always count on going to the Metrodome by myself or a friend on game day and finding a seat to watch the greatest major league baseball organization in the history of Planet Earth.  Last year, the fair-weather fans flocked to the brand new Target Field like it was a 1994 Garth Brooks concert.  Twice I showed up by myself hoping to squeeze in somewhere – no go.  Meanwhile, there were 40,000 people inside about to see the game and 5,000 of them would leave early because their short-attention spanned kids consumed too much cotton candy and Mountain Dew and wouldn’t stop crying for two innings while witnessing one pitch through six innings … the first one.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.  I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball.  When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” – from Bull Durham

I’ve watched some of the best baseball of my life when the Twins were “bad” (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/best-of-the-best-greatest-games-attended-6-10/).This year, 2011, the novelty of Target Field has worn off and the Twins are horrible with their number one draw, Joe Mauer, on the bench with owwy legs.  I think I’d be able to get a seat on game day now.  I don’t care if the team’s bad.  One of my favorite Twins teams was from 1996 with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch leading off the lineup with matching .341 batting averages (Molitor’s was slightly higher) and a pitching staff that couldn’t strike out Babe Ruth (present day).

If there’s something I miss most about baseball at this point, it’s that everyone at the games speak English.  I miss it, but in the same way I miss my friends, family and book stores – it’s what I signed up for and I was prepared for that sacrifice.

As for the 2011 Twins, I don’t care how bad the team is, I just want to be able to see them without having to buy a ticket four months in advance.

“The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is a love.”  – Bryant Gumbel

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“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

I originally thought of commenting on the World Series, but then realized that every baseball writer in the United States would be doing that.  Instead, I ask the question to every passionate baseball fan that I ask myself after the final out of the World Series: now what?  I don’t enjoy any other sport a tenth as much as I enjoy baseball.  What am I supposed to occupy myself with until spring training?  George Will summed up my opinion of football pretty well when he said, “football combines the two worst aspects of American society: violence punctuated with committee meetings.”  I do enjoy a good live basketball game, but can’t stand to watch the first three quarters of any NBA game or even the first 30 minutes of a college matchup (It also doesn’t help that my two teams – the Timberwolves and Gophers – aren’t at the top of their games lately.

Another sport isn’t going to hold me off.  I’ve come to accept this and have figured out the best ways to enjoy baseball without a single (meaningful) box score to look at until opening day.

Literature
By the end of the World Series, I’m in no way tired of watching baseball, but I am tired of staring the television for three hours a night and watching endless ads for ED drugs, beer and politicians who seem to think if I vote for their opponent, the United States will quickly come under Nazi regime.  There might be a two or three-day vacation from the game until I need my fix.  This is usually when I pick up some sort of baseball biography from my bookshelf or the library.  There is an almost endless number of books on baseball and rarely do I not enjoy one.  I can remember reading nine baseball books one offseason.

I sometimes wonder if I appreciate baseball more in the offseason when I read these books and the game is played out within my imagination.  I can imagine aspects of the game I was never able to see like Roberto Clemente throwing out a runner trying to get from first to third on a single, Babe Ruth hitting home runs at will and then downing a dozen hot dogs and sodas after the game, Bob Uecker catching fly balls during batting practice with a tuba or Sandy Koufax’s curveball dropping like it fell off a table.

Check out my Flashlight Worthy list of great baseball books to get fans through the offseason: http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Great-Baseball-Books-Fans/633.

Simulations
Many baseball fans like to play video games on their game system of choice.  For me, I don’t like my team’s ability to win or play well based on how well I can use a controller or my ability to read a pitch from the cartoon on my TV screen.  I can’t stand it when I play video games and I strike out on three pitches out of the strike zone and Albert Pujols is batting.  I think, “Pujols wouldn’t do that!  I would, but if this game were realistic, it wouldn’t let Pujols swing like Bobby Bonds.”

For me, I need realism in my baseball simulations so I turn to the dice game Strat-o-Matic (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/dungeons-and-dragons-for-baseball-nerds-like-myself)  and sometimes the computer game Baseball Mogul.  Baseball Mogul doesn’t have any real graphics, but does a pretty good job of simulating baseball in the view of a manager and/or general manager/owner.  The player can go through a century with one team and make all the moves from how the game is played on the field to the price of ice cream.

Video library
If it weren’t for the invention of DVDs, my 1991 World Series videotape would probably have worn out by now.  Before I got it on DVD, there was a glitch in the tape just after Kirby Puckett’s catch at the wall in game six from my constant stopping and rewinding.  I have a number of DVDs in my library, but thanks to Netflix, I have many more at my disposal.  Through Netflix, I can rent just about every DVD released by Major League Baseball, including full games of the 1975, 1979 and many other World Series.  Many people ask me how I can watch an entire baseball game I already know the outcome of.  There’s much to learn from watching those old games from Joe Morgan’s routine before every pitch to how the commentators have evolved.  Every game is divided into chapters by half inning, so the viewer can skip to the run-scoring innings.  But that just omits the good defense and pitching.

I’ve also downloaded a number of complete games from iTunes and can watch them on my computer as I wish.  Any classic game is usually available to download within 24 hours after its completion.

There’s also the Ken Burns baseball documentary.  Despite its length of over 18 hours, I seem to watch every winter.

Offseason news
I keep an eye on certain website’s baseball news like Ted Williams watched every pitched ball of his career.  As I go online, I go straight to sites like Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated and the Star Tribune.  Of course, I have these sites bookmarked, so I skip over the main sports page and usually find out how the Packers and Vikings via eavesdropping.

The negative aspect of the around-the-clock news on the internet is that official news rarely comes as a surprise to fans anymore.  When Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies, the rumors had been flying for some time before it was announced.  Even after the rumors comes the news that there is going to be a press conference the next day and so-and-so is expected to be announced as the newest member of their new organization.  Minor trades and free agent signings still happen quickly to the fan, but I’m pretty sure there will be weeks of speculation before Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford sign with anyone this offseason.

Anything else
Whatever else I can do in the offseason to hold me over, I do.  I’ve gone to Twins Fest, an annual get together at the Metrodome which features current and former players as well as way too many merchandisers.  On occasion, I’ll grab my wood bat and take a few swings at the local indoor batting cages.  This usually results in waking up the next morning wondering why my ribs are so sore.  Twice I’ve flown to Arizona to watch spring training games.  My only issue with this is I wish it were in January.  By March, I’m less than a month from opening day and the weather in Wisconsin is beginning to thaw.  It’s the days in January when the high temperature is 2 and the sports pages are filled with the football playoffs that I really need an escape.

A longer offseason than usual for me
On a personal note, I will be moving to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in January.  As far as I know, there is no baseball in Thailand.  How will I cope?  I don’t know other than reading books and keeping a close eye on the news via the internet.  Aside from friends and family, I know baseball will be what I miss the most.

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