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  1. #1

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    Post Create Own Topic: Going Beyond Baseball in Costa Rica

    Hey guys,

    I had the opportunity to pitch in the Costa Rican Summer Leagues a year back and just finished writing a book, titled Beyond Baseball, about it. For my entry to the writing contest, I grabbed a little bit from the opening to the book. True story. Formatting was a little screwy when I moved it over from word, but I think I got it figured out. Thanks and I hope you enjoy! Feedback is always welcome!

    Tico Time had struck again. Our first game, which had already been rescheduled three times, was supposed to start in ten minutes. The other team, however, was nowhere to be found. We still hadn’t gotten used to the loose views on time and tardiness in our first week in Costa Rica.
    “Hey guys, what’s a good response to ‘toda esta bien’?” Mitch asked us. Even though he easily spoke the least Spanish out of our group, he had somehow gotten a Tica’s phone number at the mall. He had spent the majority of his time since thumbing through his pocket Spanish dictionary, trying to decipher her text messages.
    “Just say ‘Te amo’.” Mark responded. I almost warned Mitch, but Mark caught me with a wink beforehand.
    “You sure? What does ‘te amo’ mean?” Mitch asked, wrinkling his ridiculous nose. It had been the first thing that had I had noticed when I met him. That nose. And the fact that his first words to the group were “I saw a titty bar on my way here, let’s go!”.
    “It’s a Spanish saying. It just means, like, ‘everything’s good’.” Sam jumped in.
    “Oh cool. Thanks guys!” Mitch said, excited to break out his new Spanish phrase and impress his chica. We sat, fighting back laughter, as we watched him type out his message, laboring. Completely oblivious to the most basic Spanish, he asked us how to spell ‘amo’. As soon as we heard the familiar beep signifying the message had been sent, the dugout erupted in laughs.
    “Dude, you know you just told her you love her, right?” Michael Marcotte said, smiling broadly.
    “What? What are you talking about?”
    “Te amo means I love you in Spanish. You just told her you love her!”
    “[Swear word redacted]!” Mitch shouted, hitting buttons furiously on his phone, trying to somehow cancel the message. “You guys suck! I’m going to kill you!”
    He didn’t get the chance, thankfully. Before he could exact his revenge, a head poked into the dugout and started talking quickly in Spanish.
    “Uhoh, it doesn’t sound like our game is going to get started anytime soon.” Marcotte, the closest thing we had to a fluent Spanish speaker, said, spearheading the job of interpreting for us. “He’s a player from the team we’re supposed to play today. Says the team is all here, but they all brought their kids. They were hoping we’d be willing to teach their kids about baseball before the game.”
    That’s when I noticed the small army of children in centerfield. They hadn’t just brought their children. They had brought their nieces and nephews, their friends’ kids, and their kids’ friends, and probably some random children they’d found along the way. Word that American ballplayers were in town had traveled fast.
    “What exactly are we supposed to teach them?” Sam asked, staring apprehensively at the mob of children.
    “I’m not really sure,” Marcotte said. “He said they don’t have any coaches or leagues for the younger kids down here.”
    “Let’s run some drills, teach them some basics or something. I don’t know.” Mark, our calm and collected first basemen/coach suggested.
    “Well, it doesn’t really look like we have a choice. I don’t think we’re getting all those kids off the field any time soon.”
    The eight of us wandered out to the outfield, looking like a little blue army in our royal Beyond Baseball uniforms, baseball bats in hand, pondering what and how we were going to teach the kids. The man who had stuck his head into the dugout called the kids in and began addressing them. I knew enough Spanish to pick up bits and pieces of his message. A group of ball players from the United States was here to teach the kids how to play baseball. They should all thank the good Lord for the opportunity to learn from us. Maybe someday the kids would have the chance to play baseball in the United States like us. We stood there awkwardly as a legion of kids gawked at us with wide eyes like we were some team of superheroes in baseball pants.
    We decided to begin by dividing the children into groups. Kids that had a glove and were wearing baseball pants and cleats were sent with Sam and Mitch. The youngest looking kids and those lacking gloves, wearing jeans, or not wearing shoes came with Tony, Marcotte, and myself. Our group was sizably larger. Drew, Grant and Mark wandered between the two groups, helping where they could. The three of them were employees of Beyond Study Abroad, a program for athletes who want the chance to study abroad while still maintaining their training programs and playing games. They originally were supposed to just coach the baseball team Beyond put together, but when only five kid signed up for the summer, they got to break out their gloves and cleats and help fill out our roster on the field. Even with them, we were still a man short, so we had recruited a young local player named Mardon to join our squad. Although he wasn’t the most talented player on the local teams, he could play catcher, a skill that would be a commodity on a shorthanded team.
    We began by leading some basic stretches. Because we didn’t know how to explain the stretches in Spanish, we simply demonstrated them. Some of the kids followed along, some did their own thing completely, and others wandered off. As we began a round of arm circles, the youngest looking kid in the group, who couldn’t have been older than three of four years, stumbled to the side and pulled a bag of cookies and a juice box out of a bag and started eating.
    After stretching, we moved on to throwing. Our group had about twenty kids in it, ranging in ages from 4-10. We paired them up and handed each group a baseball. I would have preferred to have joined the little guy eating cookies and drinking juice once I saw how difficult our job was going to be. The kids had no idea how to throw a ball. Some lobbed the ball underhand, some invented impossibly incorrect mechanics, and some couldn’t decide which hand they wanted to throw with. The majority dropped their baseballs on the ground and started kicking them back and forth like a soccer ball.
    We worked on the bare bones basics of throwing a ball; feet in line with the target, front arm pointing in the direction the ball should go, the other hand raised holding the ball. Our area of the field soon looked like a blizzard as the kids unleashed baseballs in all directions. We realized a little too late that we should have instructed the kids how to catch a ball before they started throwing them at each other. Our group decreased significantly in size as kids ran crying to their parents after getting hit by a flying ball.
    I tried to help, giving as many pointers and correcting as many flaws as I could with my limited Spanish. After a few minutes of ducking and dodging my way through the hailstorm of baseballs, I was pulled aside by a potbellied middle-aged man.
    “You are pitcher?” He said, slowly, piecing the sentence together in English. He pronounced pitcher with a distinct Spanish accent-peecher. I nodded. “My son is peecher too. Would you work with him? Teach him about peeching?”
    “Sure, I’ll see what I can do” I told him, thinking it couldn’t go worse than what was going on in the outfield with our group of kids. He turned and waved his son over. The kid, a lanky fifteen or sixteen year old, had been waiting for his father’s signal and came jogging over. He was in full uniform; Santo Domingo baseball cap, red jersey with faded lettering, dirty baseball pants and a pair of ragged cleats. The toe on his right cleat was caked with dirt and falling apart, a sure sign of a pitcher.
    “My name is Andres.” He said, sticking out his hand. We shook. He was a handsome kid with sharp features. His English didn’t sound confident but I was relieved I wasn’t going to have to try to coach a pitcher in a language I didn’t know. Pitching itself wasn’t a language I was that fluent in.
    “I’m Dan, vamos”. Let’s go. There was no bullpen on the field, so I led him over into foul territory where we wouldn’t have to worry about getting hit by a stray baseball from the snowball fight going on in the outfield.
    As soon as we got away from his father, Andres started talking excitedly.
    “So, you’re from the United States?” he asked.
    “Yeah, I’m from Minnesota, in the north.”
    “So, are you…in the Major Leagues?” His face was lit up with excitement. He seemed completely awestruck by me, like he thought I was actually somebody back in the United States.
    “Me?” I had to suppress a loud ‘HA!” at the idea. “No, I’m in college.”
    “Oh okay. So, after college you’ll get drafted, right?”
    I tried to explain to him I played didn’t play college baseball and the majority of the other guys on our team were Division III players, the lowest of the three athletic divisions in college. We were nowhere close to Major League caliber or draft material. He wouldn’t have it.
    “I’m sure you will make it. Someday I’m going to play in the Major Leagues.” He said it confidently. There was not a doubt in his mind about it. “I’m going to go to school in the United States after I graduate. Then I’ll get to have real coaches and practice every day and I’ll get good enough to get drafted.”
    “How often do you have practices now?” I asked him, intrigued.
    “We don’t really. There’s no teams for kids my age here. Sometimes the adult team lets me practice with them.” I had played baseball from the time that I had walked, progressing from Little League to Babe Ruth League to a different level each year throughout high school until I reached the varsity team. I had gone to baseball practice nearly every day of my life and never given it a second thought. Andres had never had that opportunity.
    “Where do you want to go to college in the States?”
    “I don’t care. Anywhere that will let me play baseball. Then after college I’ll get drafted and play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’re my favorite team. Maybe someday we’ll get to play against each other in the Major Leagues.”
    I wanted to tell the kid that I had blown that chance, turned down a college scholarship to play ball because of some dame. Explain to him that it’s nearly impossible to make the big leagues. That even when I was still playing, when I was on top of the world, I was still light-years away from playing in the Bigs. But, there was something about the innocence written across his face, how convinced he was that he would someday play in the Majors. He reminded me a lot of myself when I was his age. Baseball was his ticket out of impoverished rural Costa Rica. Just because my dream of playing ball had been crushed didn’t mean I should crush his.
    “I hope so.”
    We worked together for an hour. He had solid stuff for a kid his age, but his mechanics were a mess. You could tell he had never been coached before. I tried, but the words I needed to explain the flaws in his mechanics were almost as foreign to me as Spanish. Instead, I simply regurgitated pitching mantras and clichés I’d heard over the years; “Keep your glove side strong. Don’t open up too soon. Get on top of the curveball”.
    Eventually the parents herded all the kids out of the outfield and the game began three hours after its original scheduled start time. I doubt Andres became a better pitcher because of our time together, but he thanked me repeatedly anyways and asked if I would come back and work with him again. “Of course.” I told him. We’d be back in Santo Domingo each weekend to play against the team from the town.
    The word ‘team’ should be used loosely to describe our competition for the day. A few wore mismatching uniforms with baseball pants, but the majorities were in shorts and t-shirts. Someone’s little brother played right field. They took the field in the top of the first inning and realized they didn’t have a left fielder either. Andres, my pitching protégé who had stuck around to watch the game, was called out of the small crowd of spectators to fill in.
    I could feel the butterflies in my stomach fluttering hard as our first batter stepped to the plate in the top of the first. I was our starting pitcher. Unlike the rest of the guys on my team, I didn’t play college baseball. I hadn’t thrown a pitch since my senior year of high school, over a full year before. The normal confidence I exuded on days I was scheduled to pitch hadn’t shown up, instead I was visibly nervous and sweating before I even took the field. I hadn’t even had a chance to warm up on the sidelines before the game; the transition from kids’ clinic to game had been immediate.
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    The offense tried to calm me by putting up three runs in the top of the first off a middle-aged but high school level pitcher. As I took the mound in the bottom of the inning, I should have been feeling comforted by the three run cushion. Instead, my nerves were wound up tighter than the knot that ached in the back of my shoulder. Taking the mound for the first time to start a season, whether that be in high school, college, or the Costa Rican Summer Leagues gives even the best pitcher a bad case of butterflies. Add in the fact that I hadn’t thrown a ball competitively in over a full calendar year and I was at near nervous breakdown level.
    Back during that magical senior year of high school, when my fastball still popped and there were college scouts in the stands at each of my games, someone had asked me what I was going to do if baseball didn’t work out for me. It was a stupid question. Baseball was going to work out for me. I couldn’t have dreamed then that I’d be standing on a mound in Costa Rica, thousands of miles from home, clinging to the dream just a year later.
    I gave my glove a casual flick towards home plate, signaling to the catcher Mardon, the local kid we had brought with us so we could put a full team on the field, that a fastball was coming. I raised my glove up in front of my face, leaving just my eyes, fiery with intensity, visible to home plate. My left foot took a small step to the side. I pivoted my right. My hands fell down to my waist, my fingers pressed firmly along two seams on the baseball, pushing just a little harder with my index finger to make the ball cut in on a right-handed hitter. I raised my left knee to exactly waist high, my thigh going parallel to the ground. My knee dropped back down at the exact moment my hands separated. My left foot glided towards home plate, my hips rotated, pulling my arm through explosively towards home plate. The ball rolled off my fingertips and took flight.
    I had repeated these mechanics thousands of times over my lifetime. Even with all the time off, they still felt natural. Throwing a baseball was like riding a bike to me, once I had learned the skill, I’d never forget how to do it.
    The ball roared towards home plate. Mardon sat waiting, his glove wide open waiting to receive my first warm-up pitch, my first pitch in Costa Rica, my first pitch towards becoming a relevant baseball player again. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t land in his glove. It didn’t end up anywhere near it. Mardon lunged up and to his left, jumping out of his crouch to try and knock down the ball. It sailed to the backstop. Thankfully, it was just a warm-up pitch and a batter wasn’t standing in the batter’s box. It would have hit a righty batter square in the head.
    “Lo siento!” I shouted to Mardon, apologizing in Spanish. I followed my apology with rapid fire curse words under my breath. Mardon chased after the ball, retrieving it by the on-deck circle. He dusted the rust colored Costa Rican dirt off it and tossed it back. My next try bounced well before home plate. Mardon had to leap to catch the one after that. The kids I had taught to throw that morning had better command than me. Finally, I threw a strike. The umpire, a fourteen year old boy who we had worked with during the morning clinic, told me that I could throw ‘uno mas’. He stood behind the mound because he didn’t have the necessary protective gear to umpire from behind home plate.
    After I had thoroughly abused the game ball, alternating between peppering it into the backstop and the ground during my warm-ups, the first batter stepped up to the plate. The batter resembled a Latino John Kruk, big, round and unathletic and just as scared to step into the batter’s box as Kruk had been after Randy Johnson sailed a 100-mph warm up pitch to the backstop in the ‘96 All-Star Game. The batter took his place in the batter’s box, unsettled and uncomfortable after having watched my circus-worthy display during warm-ups, knowing that I had just as little of an idea of where the ball was going as he did.
    I got the ball back from Grant, our third basemen, the pregame around-the-horn completed. “Relax. You got this.” Grant told me before heading back to third. I walked to the back of the mound, my back to home plate. I let my head fall, my eyes close, and tried to forget the poor warm-ups I’d just thrown. Here we go, Dan. You’re back. You’ve got baseball back. The last year? It doesn’t matter now, you’re playing ball again. I took a slow, deep breath. I’d developed this routine in high school. Back then, I’d stand, facing centerfield, giving the batter time to worry as he waited for a fastball he knew he’d never hit. You’d have expected me to be wearing skull and crossbones adorned glasses when I spun back around to face the hitter, ala Ricky Vaughn in Major League, channeling my inner Wild Thing. You can do it. It’s the same game it’s always been. You’ve got this.
    After I had thought what felt like enough inspiring thoughts, I turned and marched back on to the mound. Mardon put one finger down and then tapped the inside of his right knee, fastball outside corner. I went into my motion, rocked and fired. The pitch was neither fast nor outside, as instructed, but Latino John Kruk swung and missed anyways at the letters high floater I threw down the middle of the plate. Mardon returned the ball to me and gave me the same sign. Again I threw a pitch nowhere near his target, this time low and inside. The batter swung anyways. With two strikes, Mardon put down two fingers. I snapped off a curveball that hung like a noose. I prepared myself for the case of whiplash I would get when I turned to watch the ball sail over my head, landing somewhere among the green mountains behind the left field fence. It was the kind of hanging curveball that we used to shout intelligent things at like “You hang it, we bang it!” in high school when an opposing pitcher left a deuce waist high.
    The batter swung and missed. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as Mardon stepped to the side and fired the ball to the third basemen and the umpire shouted the Spanish equivalent of “Strike Three!” The next three innings went on like this, me throwing weak tumbling pitches and the hitters either swinging and missing or hitting them weakly to the waiting gloves of the infielders.
    The other team didn’t have a set batting order. I faced John Kruk four times in the first three innings yet Andres didn’t step up the plate once. It didn’t come as much of a surprise that they didn’t have an actual lineup; they didn’t have matching uniforms or any semblance of organization. Andres stepped to the plate for the first time with two outs in the fourth inning. During our makeshift pitching lesson before the game, he confided in me that he hit like any pitcher should: terribly. I stepped onto the mound, feeling confident for the first time that day, having got the first two outs of the inning on K’s, knowing that the little teenage kid was no threat to the weak no-hitter I had going.
    I took the sign from Mardon and threw. For the first time that day, the pitch went exactly where I wanted it to, darting low and inside, heading for Mardon’s glove held knee high on the inside corner. As I reveled at my accuracy, Andres spun, holding the bat out in front of home plate. By the time I realized what was happening, a bunt, the ball was already rolling slowly down the third baseline.
    The opposing dugout went crazy, hooting and hollering. I chased after the ball, which had come to a stop about a foot from the foul line. I snatched it and turned and looked at first base. Andres was already running past the bag. When he turned back, a proud grin spread across his face.
    “If you teach me peeching, I’ll teach you the surprise bunt!” He shouted across the diamond to me. The fierce competitor in me wanted to be angry, wanted to curse and chuck my glove at a dugout wall, like I would have back when baseball was more than just a game to me. Back when it was my entire life and my future too. Instead, I smiled. I took it all in. The young kid with dreams the size of the mountains in the distance, standing on first base celebrating a bunt hit. The opposing dugout shouting and high-fiving even though they were losing by God knows how many runs by then. There were no scouts in the stands. There weren’t even any stands. There was just two teams that could only communicate in the universal language that is baseball, playing on a torn up field, not keeping score. This was baseball. This was fun.
    Andres’ hit fired up the opposing team. Before, they had been silent, only occasionally expressing their disdain at a poor call by the kid-umpire. After the hit, their dugout came alive, cheering on their hitters and shouting taunts that I didn’t understand at me. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I was rattled anyways and walked the next two hitters. With the bases loaded, a linebacker of a black man stepped up to the plate. He had arrived late, jogging on to the field during the third inning wearing a Scranton Yankees hat and carrying a Yankees equipment bag. Rumor had it that he had spent some time in the minor leagues. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, but looked like he could still pack quite the punch with his bat.
    The opposing dugout realized that their taunting was getting to me and cranked it up a level. They also realized that I didn’t speak Spanish and attempted to switch their catcalls to English. The large black man stepped to the plate. I took my place on the mound, staring in for the sign. I got it, nodded, and came to my set in the stretch.
    “Hey Peeecher, El Negro, he has a big….” Someone called from the opposing dugout, pausing to pick out the right word. The heads in the dugout went together as they brainstormed. “He has a big… BANANA!”
    I lost it right there on the mound. With the bases loaded, two outs, and a mammoth of a man standing at the plate, I lost it. I stepped off the mound, almost balking, and started laughing. And kept laughing, and laughing, and laughing. I couldn’t stop. My infielders joined me. It must have been a peculiar sight for the outfielders, out of earshot of the ridiculous line uttered from the dugout; the pitcher, all the infielders, and three baserunners, all cracking up. El Negro used his big banana to slap a base hit into left field after I had regained my composure. Two runs scored. I didn’t care. I laughed my way back into the dugout after the third out was recorded. We only played one more inning because the other team ran out of pitchers. After the game, we all shook hands, laughed some more, and then headed for home. This was baseball.
    That night, after the hour and a half bus ride on the cramped public bus back to San Jose, I ate my rice and beans and headed straight for my bed. I do my best thinking lying in bed and had lots running through my head to sort out. I had baseball back. Sure, I was not the dominant force on the mound, pounding fastballs past hitters with my compass set straight for bigger things, but I also hadn’t had that much fun playing ball in a long time. I was three thousand miles from home, three thousand miles from my friends and family, and three thousand miles from my past. The kids at the clinic, some barefoot, most carrying beat up hunks of leather that barely passed for gloves, gave me a new perspective on the game and the opportunities I had taken for granted playing it. I might not have made it to the Major Leagues, but these kids didn’t care. We were Big Leaguers in their eyes.
    I pulled the covers back from my bed, ready to slip under them and think myself to sleep. Something small darted from beneath them, stopping in the middle of my bed. I jumped, startled, and dropped the blankets. When I calmed down and conjured the confidence to look under my covers again, a small neon green lizard stared up at me. The little guy was about five inches long and not interested in giving up his spot under the warm blanket.
    “Get out of there!” I instructed. He didn’t move. I tried to talk him into leaving before realizing how silly it was to be talking to a lizard. Plus, if he somehow could understand human speak, he definitely wouldn’t know English. Eventually, I wrapped him up in my blanket and tossed him on the floor. When I crawled into bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead of pondering all the deep, meaningful subjects I had in mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about the little lizard lurking somewhere in my room, angry that I had kicked him out of bed.

  2. #2

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    I'm afraid you cannot submit this as part of the articles contest as the rules state:


    1. You must be a member in good standing to enter (No unexpired infractions worth 5 points or more)

    2. The article must be your own original work - using something written by someone else will result in disqualification

    3. The article you use must be brand new - you cannot use an article which you previously submitted for the articles site or submitted elsewhere

    4. Add pictures to your article - it helps getting your message across it’s not an obligation but it can help

    Good read though.


  3. #3

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    I don't believe I was clear in my initial post. This excerpt will be part of a book that will be published in the future, but currently is just a file on my laptop. It has yet to be submitted anywhere.

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