Friday, February 9, 2007

Play ball

The kids are so cute here - shy but very friendly. Last Saturday morning, we got up early to go to a baseball clinic, of all things, here in the soccer-mad country. It was organized by Major League Baseball, to be held in Tema, a city just north of Accra.

To get there, we caught a tro-tro near our apartment, and woman with a one-year-old strapped to her back. He kept pointing at me and then hiding his face in his mother’s back whenever I looked his way. No shy smile – a deadpan look on his face, but nonetheless curious.

At the next stop, a woman with two young kids boarded the tro-tro. One of the boys – maybe two years old – began giggling the moment he saw me. They sat down behind us, and a few minutes later, he tapped on my shoulder and said, “una una” and giggled madly when I turned around. Joseph, who was accompanying us to Tema, said “una una” was just babble, didn’t mean anything at all. He was just making a sound. This continued until we got off at our stop – one tapping me from behind, the other pointing at me from the front.

I enjoy the interactions with kids here because the adults are very standoff-ish, much like Canadians - warm and friendly when you get to know them, but a bit aloof or reticent in the beginning.

We arrived in Tema at nine o’clock, and took a taxi to the field. This is a soccer-mad country (even more so after their World Cup appearance last year). Almost no one plays baseball, so I was very curious about what a delegation from Major League Baseball was doing here. There were a lot of big wigs – Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets, Dusty Baker, former manager of the Chicago Cubs, and Dave Winfield, a member of the Jays when they won the World Series in the early 90s.

The U.S. baseball people were there on a “goodwill” mission, not a scouting one. They came with equipment to donate to schools and league teams. There was one player that could play in the States someday, but the MLB people know Ghana – like the rest of Africa - was a long way from producing major league players. The event was organized by a well-connected Ghanaian ex-pat living in New York.

It was a blazing hot day. I got a really bad sunburn because I got so caught up interviewing people for a possible newspaper story back home. I talked to little league kids and older players who dreamed of playing in the big leagues, Ghanaian baseball officials, Winfield, Minaya…probably 10 or 11 people in all. Anyone back home who knows how much I love baseball can imagine how much fun I had.

It’s difficult to say whether baseball can catch on here and eventually produce really good players, ones that could play pro in the states. There is no real baseball field anywhere in the Accra area, although a politician showed up at the event promising to build one at the University of Accra.

The field where we were on Saturday had no outfield fencing, though it did have a backstop. The infield was on uneven ground, and full of rocks. The baseball people were impressed by the quality of the players, though. “Can you imagine what they could play like on a real field,” Winfield told me.

In the little league game, they played much like little leaguers at home – full of enthusiasm, making spectacular plays one minute and botching one the next. One kid made a spectacular catch on a line-drive grounder to third, and then couldn’t figure out when to throw the ball!

It was harder for the older players – the ones between 17-19. The little kids get equipment and uniforms though schools and community sponsorship. They have organized leagues with a lot of teams. There is no league for the older ones because they can’t get sponsored – this despite the fact that Ghana won a bronze medal in baseball at the all-Africa games in 1999. I talked to the minister of sport and he said they couldn’t guarantee funding a team for this year’s games in June, despite enthusiasm at Saturday event. There were hundreds of people on hand to watch.

A couple of highlights: a spirited but botched rendition of 'Take me out to the ball game' by the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, Pamela Bridgewater. The public address announcer called the game like he was a Hockey night in Canada commentator. No sounds of the game - crack of bat, the ball hitting the glove - because he never really stopped talking. Now I know why I can't watch HNC!

- Mark

P.S. the lovely photos were taken by Janet


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark and Janet,

Sounds like you had quite a day! Only you can find baseball wherever you go, Mark! We miss you guys. It's great to be a part of your experiences through your blog - keeps us all close. Have a great weekend.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark and Janet,
Great to hear your experience with baseball. Like Allie only you would find baseball wherever you go. Also the experience you are having with the people. It shows you people are the same all over the world. Little people always surprise you. Even when I had Susan last Friday. It was the first time I had her alone. She was so comfortable with me. Elizabeth took home the reindeer today from the front door and Jennifer tels me she is cuddled up with him . Pretty cute.
Love, Mummy and Daddy

Anonymous said...

Hey Janet and Mark,
I feel so privilege of having 2 friends that can write so well to us. It is so interresting that I visit your site every 2 days at the most. Please continue giving us your views and comments on the local issues. It really put my life back in perspective, your living conditions and sentiments are very close of what I felt when I was in haiti for a couple of months in 2001. Cheers and lots of courage.

Meelahn Scott-Weabury said...

Dear Auntie Janet and Uncle Mark,
I liked the pictures on your blog. I liked your swimming picture. I liked the car one too. Grandma is coming to visit you.
Auntie Janet, are you going to write a letter to my kindergarten class?
I miss you.
Love, Meelahn