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.