Way back in December, way before my friend Hanman decided to get ripped, he decided he would once again hold his baseball camp. Ever since announcing it in the cold winter months, baseball camp had been a constant oasis on the horizon. With summer came baseball camp. We dreamed big. Baseball cards for the kids, watching game on the Internet, projecting the movie Major League on the side of his apartment building, getting Willie Mayes to come, and a slip ‘n’ into home base.
But unfortunately, a week before the camp, my organization told me about the ecology camp we were doing for city youth (see last post). Then I got asked to go to a training for a new Youth Bank (www.youthbank.org) project starting in my city (see next post). So baseball camp for me was cut from ten glorious days to four. Monday, Friday, Saturday. (And Sunday. No camp, but hanging with volunteer time.)
Okay, so backing up. Baseball in Kazakhstan? If you’re not asking yourself what the heck is Michael talking about then you don’t know Kazakhstan. Soccer, kokpar, basketball, volleyball. Those are sports here. Baseball. Nope. But somehow, some time in the past, a volunteer acquired about three bats, fifteen gloves, a dozen balls, and five helmets (safety first!). So now, every summer, volunteers can spend a week or two teaching children a sport they’ve never played before and may never play again. But you know what, they pick it up quick, and they sure do have fun.
The first day was mainly spent with hitting and throwing skills. And then a short game with emphasis on throwing it to first, second, third, or home depending on where the runner is (Bir-in-shi, eki-in-shi, ush-in-shi, wu-ee-geh, in case you want to play at home.) Because Kazakh names are especially hard (especially for them Yankee volunteers living among Russians), we gave the children nicknames instead. Rookie, Jarule, Arod, John Stockton, Baby, etc.
Then I left. And I came back Friday and by golly the kids were already playing seven inning games. There was no stealing or balks or infield fly rule, but the kids were playing baseball. By then we had about twelve kids and eight volunteers, more than enough to field an actual team. It was an astounding site to see in Kazakhstan.
Then Saturday came, and it was the Big Day. Meaning I had lost one of my numerous bets to Hanman and was required to make the slip ‘n’ slide. One day I had randomly stumbled across plastic sheeting in the bizarre and had bought it. Now all I had to do was sew up the sides, buy some Fairy (the local brand of dish soap), and get some water from the well. In order to make it a little more fun, we planned an entire field day. Long jumb, Frisbee throw, tug of war (the jump rope broke – 3 times), and then an obstacle course ending in a wet slide into home. The obstacle course itself was set apart from maybe all other obstacle courses ever created on Earth by the fact that between first and second (it was a baseball diamond), the runners path was blocked by Scott and Aaron wearing large, furry mascot heads and making strange noises.
The kids enjoyed it immensely. I think I enjoyed it even more. It was super. The rest of the day just made it even better. Jenn, Ken, and I ate dog. Then we went swimming at a café. Then we ate Turkish food. Then we sang Karaoke (yes, we made many a tribute to Michael Jackson). And then donors on the walk home. The next day we continued the fun by going to a water park. Three more volunteers came and then I departed for Almaty for Youth Bank Training.