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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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