An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Category: Yankee Camp (page 2 of 9)

Tropical Storm?

No, not really, but we’ve had some very heavy downpours the last few days that have made the fields virtually unusable, at least out on the warning tracks. Jogging around them is out of the question, so I’ll have to make use of the access road into camp, thus going back and forth rather than in circles–breaks up the monotony, I suppose.

I had to go into Boca Chica for some supplies yesterday, so I phoned my usual motorbike driver to come pick me up and bring me back. I could see the clouds starting to move in, but thought I could get there and back before the rain started. I got there ok, but the sky opened as we were coming back to camp. Luckily, we were near a small shop that let us stand inside to wait for an opening in the clouds.

Right now, about 7 in the morning, we have overcast skies and it feels quite chilly. The forecast is calling for more rain today and tomorrow. This is the first significant rain in quite a long while, so I suppose we need it; some of the fields were looking a bit parched. Now, if I can only time my jogging to coincide with the expected rain, allowing me to skip another session . . . 😛

As expected, about 10 of the players have left for Tampa, but the new guys haven’t come to camp yet. A couple of my classes have been somewhat depleted, but that gives me more opportunity to work with them individually, if necessary.

The Yanks won their opener yesterday, topping Toronto 3-2. Sweeeeeet! We’re in 1st place! More later.

Short Update

Semana Santa has come and gone, so now we’re in the long stretch leading up to the start of the Dominican Summer League in June and beyond. Some of the players have left for Tampa and more will be leaving next week, and new players will be arriving around April 1st. Not that many have left, so my class sizes are still fairly large. Most of the guys that are here now will stay here throughout the summer.

Opening Day of the 2008 baseball season is just a few days away and the excitement is picking up. In recent days, some of the players have been watching the final Yankee exhibition games on TV in the afternoon, and I’ve had to play the bad guy, asking them to turn the set off and leave the rec room because English class was beginning.

I’m curious to see whether or not the high school players will be here this Saturday. They didn’t play last week because of the holiday, but there are still some Gatorade signs pinned to the center field fence of one of the fields, signs that were put up when they first started playing a few weekends ago. I’ll try to get some more photos of the games if the teams are here.

There’s really not too much going on right now, but I’ll have more later.

Baseball Tournament, Holy Week

The last couple of Saturdays the camp has hosted a high-school age baseball tournament, consisting of 8 teams, which means all four fields have been in use. Each team plays two games, beginning about 11 a.m. and finishing around five, I’m told. (Because I’m usually in Boca Chica on Saturday afternoons, I’m not around for the finish of the games.) There are quite a large number of supporters, family and friends, I assume, who have been turning out for the games, and, with the 20 or so members of each team, the complex has been quite crowded. One of the best parts of the tournament has been the enthusiasm of the players. Cheering, chanting and hand clapping punctuate the play, and with the green, yellow, red and blue uniforms dotting the fields, the complexion of the campus is drastically changed. Very interesting and exciting. I don’t know if the tournament will be played this Saturday, since this is one of the big holiday seasons in Latin America, Semana Santa–Holy Week.


Speaking of which, we get a few days off, beginning today. The Dominican players are going home after practice today, but the rest of us, from other countries, are staying at the campus. Last year the Yanks put us up in one of the Juan Dolio resorts, just down the road about 30 kilometers, for a few days, but not this time, for various reasons. There’s quite a large contingent of foreign players here right now, probably in the neighborhood of 15 or so. Last year, too, the holiday coincided with the player turnover which takes place near the beginning of April. We’ll get a lot of new players in then and lose some, who will be moving on to Tampa. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy the days off, probably spending a lot of time in Boca Chica.

My jogging times are back up to over an hour, so I’m 100% recovered from my recent illness. With all the physical fitness attempts, I figure I should at least be allowed to take a few batting practice sessions to keep up with recent Yankee signee, Billy Crystal. I ain’t askin’ for a contract–just a chance to strike out against one of our young guns. 🙂

There haven’t been too many nice sunsets or sunrises lately that I’ve been able to photograph. There was a gorgeous sunrise the other morning, but I was out jogging. The one below is about the only one I’ve been able to “bag” recently. More later.


P.S. For anyone who is wondering how Nai is doing, well . . . he was doing pretty good, but now the doctor tells him that he has malaria! Go figure. He’s also been complaining about one of his eyes hurting him. This is one of the results of the motorbike accident that is still lingering and it’s something I’m worried about. He says he can barely see out of it, and I can’t figure out whether it’s bruised, or a scratched cornea or a detached retina, which is serious. I warned him to see a doctor right away, which he did. The doc seemed to feel that it might be ok. Nai said he would send me an email, written by his friend, explaining what the doc told him. He’s pretty despondent right now and weak, but I hope he’ll get through it all ok.

Something’s Burning

I mentioned in a previous post about the fires that are set in order to burn off the dead undergrowth this time of year. Here’s a couple of photos of the smoke from a few fires that were started just outside the camp. The first image was taken through my bathroom window, and, with the large cloud of smoke, it’s a good thing the wind was blowing away from us.


The second photo is from my balcony. Though the smoke is not as bad, the wind is blowing toward us, so the field was beginning to get a bit hazy.


You can see how dense the smoke can get, but in reality, the size and the intensity of the flames are quite small. I walked outside the fence and took a look at the area of one of the burns the day after, and most of the larger, living stalks (1-2 feet tall) of whatever kind of plant they are, were barely singed.

There’s sometimes so much smoke coming off these burns that you’d think the blazes must be huge. They’re not. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire–but not much.

Apparently, there was a small oil spill near Boca Chica last week, causing the closure of the beach for a short period. It wasn’t too serious, and the Weekend Office beach was open this past weekend. I read today that the shipper was fined 7 million pesos (about $210,000) for the cost of cleaning up the spill.

Also last week, the Dominican Republic was host to a summit of Latin American nations. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well as his counterparts from Ecuador and Colombia were present, and they shook hands and made up over the recent spat about Colombia’s incursion into Ecuador. A couple of the Venezuelan players told me that Chavez and some of the other leaders were staying at Hamaca Resort in Boca Chica. I looked around for some sign of them on Saturday to try to get some photos, but I saw nothing, so I assume they had already returned to their home countries.

Nai seems to be doing better, but he’s still weak. When I called him this morning (early evening in Laos), he was out walking around, albeit with the aid of Pui, his brother. I, however, am just now getting over a bug of some kind that I picked up last Monday or so. I even cancelled last Wednesday’s classes because I felt so badly, and I’m still not 100%. Thus, my running program has sure gone to heck, though I did manage to survive a 45-minute jog this morning. More later.

Good News

I finally talked to Nai today and he’s back home, a little worse for the wear and tear. He was feeling very tired and couldn’t talk for long since the medication he’s taking (probably pain killers) was starting to kick in and he wanted to sleep. He did say that he hurt his back, head and leg in the accident, and he has to return to the hospital frequently for checkups. I asked if someone hit him, but I think he tried to tell me that no one else was involved. He must have crashed on his own, and I’ll find out more as he recovers. I’m just thankful he wasn’t terribly injured, and I hope he recovers soon.

Looking over my lists of new arrivals at the camp and the players who are holdovers, I see that a few of my classes are going to be quite large, with 20 or more students in a couple of them. Of course, that size class wasn’t unusual in South Korea and would certainly seem small compared to the 50- to 60-student classes I had in Benin. Still, I think I might have to see about moving the classes out of the comfy rec. room and into the cafeteria, which has more seating and few distractions. The kids aren’t gonna like it because there is only bench seating, so there won’t be any sofas and armchairs that they like to slouch on in the other room. Some won’t mind, though, since the rec. room won’t be off limits during class hours. More later.

Space Camp

For a few days this week, I was focused on the heavens. On Tuesday, the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Atlantis flew overhead, both easily visible to the naked eye, with the ISS particularly bright–brighter than any star, at about -2.5 magnitude, according to Heavens Above. The Shuttle was about 20 degrees ahead of the ISS, after separating from it the day before. The previous evening, the two were supposed to have been very close together, forming a more spectacular, tight, naked-eye duo soaring in tandem across the evening sky. However, at that time their altitude above the horizon was too low to be seen at my location. It was still a great sight on Tuesday, with the two artificial “stars” taking about six minutes to make their way from north to south, though they were only visible at the camp for, I estimated, about 4 minutes.

The following night, Wednesday, was the equally awesome total lunar eclipse. The event started about 9:45 p.m., my time, with totality lasting from 11 p.m. to midnight. I stayed up watching reddish-orange Luna until about 11:30, way past my normal bedtime. I slept in the next morning, forgoing my usual jog. I took some photos, but none of them turned out very well. The one below is probably the best of the lot. The bright “star” at the bottom of the photo, just to the left of an imaginary line drawn straight down from the moon, is Saturn.


Speaking of jogging, I went beyond my previous longest time last Saturday by clocking in at an hour and 23 minutes, 14 laps around the warning tracks of the four fields. I’m nearing my short-term goal of jogging for an hour and a half, and now I’m looking at, hopefully, being able to do 2 hours, non-stop, by July. That’s about 20 laps, and it sounds approachable. It’s good to see some results of the morning run and of other exercising I’ve been doing–my weight is now in the low 190s. (I can hear you snickering out there–that’s pounds, not kilograms!)

I should be able to get some photographs of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, now that burning season is here. It’s the time of year when the surrounding farmers and landowners start burning their old scrub brush, filling the air with smoke and particles, which scatter and reflect the sunlight (something like that, anyway) much more than cleaner air does. That’s another reason to go jogging in the early morning–there’s not as much smoke in the air, though there is a faint gray haze over the camp as the sun rises, and the “campfire” smell is always present.

Who’s lieing–Clemens or McNamee? I suspect they both are, but I don’t really care. The baseball season is upon us–the season when all of the Red Sox dreams of dynasty fade into harsh reality under the Yankee onslaught. Why? There’s a a new manager (Girardi), a potentially lethal crop of young, home-grown pitchers, and it’s the last year the team will play in The Old Stadium, before moving across the street to the new Yankee Stadium next year. The All Star Game will be played at the old ballpark this year, as will the World Series. The ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Co., though they’ll be making the short journey to the new ballpark, will make their presence felt throughout this final year in The House That Ruth Built. Contrary to Boston fans’ desperate hope that the Yanks are down and out, there are going to be many championships to come for the Bombers–more now, and many more later.

Birthday and Baseball

It was Nai’s birthday a few days back, so I called to wish him Happy Birthday and to sing the birthday song to him. Did you know the B-Day song is, reportedly, the most sung song in the English language. It’s also sung in English in Korea and Laos. Anyway, Nai’s 35 and he said he’s an old man. Puh-leeeeeze. His family was having a party for him–lots of people, lots of food and BeerLao, and a birthday cake with candles. He wasn’t feeling too well, however, complaining of a headache (“my memory hurting me today”), an everyday occurrence, for the most part. I think he gets migraines, because he tells me he can’t see out of his right eye when the pain is really bad. Until I quit smoking, I used to get extremely painful migraines, and when he tells me he can’t see, it’s an exact description of what I used to go through. He experienced the same thing last year at this time, and then the headaches quit, more or less, for several months. He doesn’t smoke, so perhaps they’re triggered by cold weather at night (50-60 degrees) during the winter months.

Speaking of Laos, sort of, I found a couple more nifty blogs. One is Lao Cook, a, you guessed it, blog devoted to Lao cuisine. It’s written by a native Lao chef who is now living in Spain. Though it doesn’t appear he gives the recipes, the photos and narrative are very appealing. A couple of other good blogs, both about daily life in Laos, are Lao Meow and Lao Bumpkin.

For the first time, the Summer League players weren’t released from camp-tivity last Friday. They were a disgruntled lot, but managed to straggle into English classes, somewhat sleepy after emerging from their afternoon siestas.

They were also none too happy, most of them, about the scores they received on a short quiz I gave them last Wednesday. They did pretty badly, though some did well–but not enough. I don’t know whether this reflects on my teaching or on the difficulty of the quiz. Neither, I suspect. What it does reflect, I think, is on the motivational level of many, if not a good majority, of the players. Most of them don’t pay attention in class, and once out of class, they don’t study and they don’t use the language unless I’m talking to them on the field or in the cafeteria. There are, thankfully, a few who do care and put in a good effort. One guy told me at the end of class on Friday that his father was going to kill him if he saw his score. I told him that he had to work at it outside of class, that he had to study and use English whenever he could. He’s a great kid, very friendly and outgoing, as most of them are, but perhaps his father will provide a bit of motivation.

By the middle of next week, all the Dominican Summer League players, the ones who started camp in the middle of January, are being allowed to go home until the beginning of March, so my class sizes will be reduced substantially. The other players leave for Tampa on March 1st and will be replaced by a new crop of guys, most of whom were at the camp last summer. What a turnover, and there’s another influx-outgo around the first of April. Things don’t really settle down until then. It’s a bit of a teaching challenge, a very unique situation.

But, these guys are baseball players first, and there are some good ones here. Two stand out. I usually sit out on my balcony in the morning, writing up the afternoon’s lesson plans and watching batting practice, which takes place on the main field, with the batters facing me. One of the standouts is Reymond Nunez, who recently signed on with the team (beginning of December, I believe). He’s been crushing the ball, slamming some long, towering home runs. Another power guy is a 16-year-old try out kid, whose name I don’t know and which I probably wouldn’t be able to give you anyway, out of a sense of secrecy in case any scouts from the other clubs might stumble onto this blog (highly unlikely, but possible). He, too, has been showing some extraordinary power, especially for only being 16, matching the older Nunez with quite a few long shots of his own. Granted, it’s only batting practice and the wind is usually blowing out toward left field, but no one else is slamming the ball like these two. The Yanks need to sign the try out guy, in my humble opinion, and hope that both of them can hit a well-thrown curve ball, the bane of many a potential big leaguer.

I hope to get some more of the Montana 2007 photos posted soon, so keep checking back for information about them.

Whew! This is getting to be a long post, so I better save some for more later.

Belated Post

I don’t know why it slipped my mind, but I had written up a blog entry while I was in Boca Chica last Saturday. I was looking through my lesson notes when I found it. Here it is, written on Feb. 2, one week late:

Unexpectedly, the powers-that-be, here at the camp, allowed the Dominican Summer League players to return home on Friday, instead of Saturday. This is the same group that has been here since the middle of January, the ones who have been given Saturday off the past few weeks, about which I have already posted. Despite their absence Friday afternoon, I still had enough of the new players to conduct the usual classes.

A fellow from Baseball America was visiting the camp yesterday, so I introduced myself to him, something I do whenever an unexpected Norteamericano face shows up. He was interested in my teaching assignment, and he asked for a short interview. No problem. I told him that this was a dream job for a lifelong Yankee fan, and I gave him a condensed version of how I became a fan of the Greatest Sports Team in the History of the World and the Known Universe. (The Red Sox are merely a regional phenomenon.) I can even recall the exact date. So, for your edification and to satisfy your insatiable curiosity, here’s my tale.

My family moved from the small town atmosphere of Chesaning, Michigan, my mother’s hometown, to the oil city of Port Arthur, Texas, my father’s stomping grounds. This was in the mid-1950s (sheesh, I’m dating myself), and my awareness of, let alone knowledge of, baseball was nil at that time. One of my uncles–oh, let’s call him Uncle Red, since that’s who he was known as at that time–liked to rib me about being a Yankee; i.e., someone not from the South, specifically Texas.

I, of course, took umbrage at his constant disparagement of my Northern background and began to take pride in my Yankee upbringing. To the best of my recollection, I was largely unaware of the North-South split and the whole leftover Civil War attitude at that time. So, thanks to Uncle Red, I began to identify myself as a Northerner, a Yankee.

Then, in October of 1958, my dear Uncle pointed out to me that a couple of baseball teams were playing in something called the World Series. One of the teams was called the New York Yankees, the other the Milwaukee Braves. If I remember correctly, he began to disparage the Yanks merely because of their name, never mind that both teams were based in the North. He told me that the Yanks had lost the World Series the year before to the Braves and were going to lose again this year, because they were behind by 3 games to 1. One more win and the Braves would be champions again. Typical of any Yankee–losers. (That’s putting it in today’s terms and he probably wasn’t that harsh, but as a young boy, I took it very personally, as if he’d actually said it that way.) I defended the Yankees, because they represented, in name, my youthful pride. We made some kind of bet, one with no stakes involved except, perhaps, bragging rights, on the outcome.

Against all odds, the Yanks, for the first time in World Series history, came back from being down 3 to 1 to win the next 3 games and the Championship. I was ecstatic! My Uncle never heard the end of it, of course. It was then that baseball and the New York Yankees, my new boyhood heroes, captured my attention. I began reading every baseball book I could find in the local library, and I learned about the rich heritage of the Yanks. From that day when they won the Series, Oct. 9th, 1958, I’ve been completely loyal to them, never, ever wavering in that loyalty (unlike one of my brothers, a dastardly turncoat who now roots for the Tigers). Such is the stuff of which dreams are made. Thanks, Uncle Red. More (dreams) later.

P.S. Thanks to all the gods of baseball that {{link Johan Santana was traded to the Mets and not to the Beantown Pretenders to the Throne.

Another Beautiful Friday

Lucky me, it was another Friday off (the final one). There’s no practice tomorrow, so the players were again allowed to leave the camp early to return to their homes. The schedule will get back to normal this coming week, when 40 or so more players will be checking in to the camp. All of the new players will be going to Tampa at the end of February, some for a month or so and some to stay and play minor league ball. Most have been to the U.S. before and have decent English language skills, so I’ll be able to do a lot more with them in class, focusing mainly on Content Based Instruction (CBI). In CBI, the focus is on the subject matter, rather than on the language itself. So, for the players with the higher English skills who have been to the U.S. before, I’m going to teach the historical aspects of baseball, including the race issue, the advent of Latin American players into the majors, the history of the Yankees and more.

For those advanced speakers of English who are going to the States at the end of February but who have not been there before, I’m going to emphasize situations, like going through airports, staying in a hotel, using public transportation, etc. For the guys who will be staying here for the Dominican Summer League, the language itself will be a primary concern in the classroom, mainly conversational English.

At any rate, I’ll have my hands full soon, with the occasional Friday off nothing but a remote dream. Not that I’m off today, of course–I did have office hours at the beach in Boca Chica while working on the upcoming week. One of the waiters at the establishment where I hold Weekend Office Hours told me that Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and another Major League Yankee player–probably Edwar Ramirez–had ambled down the beach just a few minutes before I arrived. If they had come back, I would have said hello to them and asked them if they knew whether or not the fans in New York City send off their baseball equipment trucks to Tampa with kisses. (For an explanation of this bizarre form of pagan idol worship, read the comments at the end of the previous post. Click on comments. By the way, OGM is one of the few people who post comments on the blog. Forgive her–she’s from Boston and is a very devout baseball and Red Sox fan. (Gag) 😛 Feel free to post a comment, though, whoever you are, if the mood strikes you. Just click on “No Comments” or ” 2 Comments” or whatever at the end of any blog entry.)

I’ve finally finished posting the remaining Laos photos to the Gallery, so I should be adding Montana photos soon, as time permits. I’ll let you know.

Speaking of Laos, I read an article this morning about the continuing efforts to clear the country of unexploded bombs (UXO) left over from the Vietnam War. A short quote from the article:

“Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world, suffering from intense ground battles and aerial bombardment during the Indochina War.

More than 580,000 bombing missions resulted in more than two million tonnes of bombs being dropped during the 10 year period of conflict. About 30 percent of these did not explode on impact.”

Read the rest of it here. Very tragic and so completely immoral. More later.

Weekend Musings

With most of the players gone, the camp was unusually quiet this past weekend–no players, office staff or coaches and only a small group of housekeepers and ground crew. Unfortunately, with few people to feed, meals were sparse until Sunday dinner, by which time the players who went home were supposed to return. I looked in on breakfast Saturday morning and, as I suspected, the Blue Plate Special was Mystery-Meat-and-Cheese Sandwiches. I passed on it and didn’t hang around for lunch. Instead, I went to my weekend office and worked on upcoming lessons.

My Weekend Office:


Yes, I did go into Santo Domingo on Friday, but, no, I wasn’t able to change phone companies. I knew of one place in a supermarket close to where my apartment was, but they don’t sell the actual SIM cards, only the recharge cards. I’ll have to go back to the Capital in a few weeks and try to find a larger shop that has the SIM card I need.

I laid off jogging on Friday because the fields were too wet from a late Thursday afternoon rain shower. So, having rested a day, I was able to break my all-time jogging record on Saturday morning–1 hour, 17 minutes. What a Marathon Man I’m becoming. 😉 Too bad none of the remaining players in camp were up to cheer me on, but with the day off, they were all sleeping. Deadbeats. More later.

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