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Baseball Thoughts

After posting yesterday about the great weather we’ve been having lately, of course it’s been raining all day. According to the KMA (see South Korea links on the sidebar to the right), we’ve been blessed (!?) with almost 3 inches of rain, so far, with a bit more predicted to fall from now through tomorrow. I gave a tour of parts of Yeosu today to one of the new teachers, who has a car, but, tonight, with the rain still coming down, my thoughts have turned to the upcoming baseball season.

Yesterday, spring training games bloomed in Florida and Arizona, harbingers of the baseball season to come. The Yanks seem to have been shut out in the free agent market this past winter, but they picked up a few bargains. The starting rotation appears fragile, but youngsters, such as Ivan Nova (one of my former students at the Yankee baseball academy in the Dominican Republic), and aged veterans, like former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, may yet salvage the starting five. The bullpen, however, is deep, and Mo (Mariano Rivera), the best closer in history, is back to nail down the late inning wins.

The offense is still one of the best in baseball, led by Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and, hopefully, a resurgent Derek Jeter returning to form. Many baseball pundits predict that the Yanks won’t make it to the World Series, but I have high hopes.

Here’s a shot of young Mr. Super Nova that I took when some of the players gave a workshop on a visit to a Santo Domingo, D.R., orphanage. You can read my comments about that visit in November of 2007 in this post that I wrote at the time.

I usually subscribe to MLB TV to watch the Yanks play either live or at my leisure. It’s a pretty good deal if you live outside the country and can’t watch the games on local TV.

Another big baseball event, for me and other fans of computer text simulation baseball games, is the impending release, sometime in April, of version 12 of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTPB), an incredible simulation that lets you become the manager or general manager of a fictional or real baseball team. It’s very engrossing and realistic, and, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan, you’ll find yourself playing (wasting?) hours on the game. Until its release date, you can get it for $29.99 ($39.99 after it’s released). I already reserved my copy. You can download a free version, OOTPB8, to try it out. Click on the link in the side bar for more information about this great game.

See ya at the (virtual) ballpark.

Super Nova. Si. Super Teacher? Nah.

Wow, I was watching the Yankee game this morning (Sunday, in the States) when the broadcasters announced the starting pitchers for the August 23rd game, Yanks at Toronto. One of my students at the Dominican Republic Yankee baseball academy is going for New York. Ivan Nova is a charismatic, 6-foot 4-inch, 23-year old from the D.R., and I’m really going to enjoy watching him pitch his first major league start, though he pitched a few games in relief earlier this year. It’s quite a huge deal for him. Here are his stats on Baseball Refrence.

I joked with Ivan about what his nickname might be in the Majors; I said it could be “Ivan the Terrible,” but he told me that “Super Nova” was going to be his moniker. I think I have his email address, so I’m going to send him congratulations after he wins tomorrow. Good luck, Ivan! Here’s a photo of him that I posted back on Nov. 16, 2007, when part of the team visited an orphanage in Santo Domingo. The kids loved him, (like I said–charismatic), and he was swamped by young autograph seekers.

The university conducts student surveys after every semester to ascertain how we teachers are viewed by our classes. Well, the results from last semester came out last week and I had the highest rating by far, at 93%, with the faculty average being 85% or so. The students “grade” us in categories such as “The teacher arrived in class on time,” “The teacher was well-prepared,” “The teacher used outside materials appropriately,” etc. However, I look on this stuff as mere popularity ratings, not proficiency, and your score is dependent on the kind of students you have for that particular semester (age, hometown, interests, major, etc.). I won this before, in my first semester here (Fall, 2008), and I received a 100,00 won prize and a nice certificate. I also finished near the bottom in the semester right after that, while not drastically changing my methods or presentation, though I’m always striving to learn from my mistakes and get better. Like I said–a popularity contest, though it’s not bad for an old guy, I guess. :smile: More later.

Beach Dreams

I’ve been preparing a packing list today and looking around for items on that list to include in my bags for the upcoming vacation I mentioned in the previous post. While doing this, I’ve been listening to free internet radio site Live365, where you can find all kinds of music. I’ve had the Dominicana Digital station from the Dominican Republic grooving me all afternoon with merengue, salsa, bachata, reggaethon and other hot Latin music. With the cold, blustery weather in Yeosu right now, I sure have a yearning to be sitting in my former Weekend Office, but, alas, it’s too far away and too expensive to get there. No, unfortunately, that’s not where I’m going on winter vacation. Here’s a shot looking toward the Boca Chica lagoon from my old Weekend Office.

Boca_Beach_5

And, looking further down the beach . . .

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Someday I hope to return for a visit to the Dominican Republic and Boca Chica, but it’ll be in the summer, when the Yankee baseball camp is in full swing. Until then, I’ll have to settle for the warmer climes of . . . Laos and Thailand, next weekend. I won’t be going to any Thai beach areas, but at least it’ll be nice and warm there and in Vientiane. Can’t wait. More later.

Goodbyes

There are some very nice personal advantages to working here, among them, these. First, the camp is tranquil, despite all the baseball, and beautiful–quite isolated, surrounded by scrubland and forest, with lots of birds, woodpeckers and yellow thrushes especially, making their homes in the trees. Next, we’re only a 5-minute ride from a beautiful beach–swaying palms, turquoise waters, and gentle, cooling breezes. Finally, living at the camp 24/7 naturally leads to good friendships with many of the players. That’s also a downside. A number of players have been released lately, dropped from the academy and sent home, mainly due to lingering injuries that just never fully healed and negatively affected their performance. Some of these guys had become good friends, and when I found out they were leaving, I shed a tear or two. Three in particular, who were released in the past month, stand out.

First is Jean Paul Conde, a handsome and friendly 19-year old Venezuelan pitcher with a confident attitude. With his dashing good looks, he would have been a major celebrity if he had made the big leagues with the Yankees. Here’s a shot of a rental car with Jean Paul on the left, Richard Martinez in the middle and Nixton Perez outside the car (all from Venezuela), along with a few chicas that Jean Paul had attracted.

JeanPaulCar

Then we lost Andres Varilla, an outspoken and high-strung Venezuelan. He is a good English speaker and we had more than a few discussions about Venezuelan and American politics. He plans on going to university and he’ll do well in whatever he decides to do. Here’s a photo of him (on the right) and Jean Paul with Reggie Jackson from November, 2006.

CRW_5468

Finally, my favorite player was also released a short while ago. Juan Lopez, from Nicaragua, is such an easy-going, friendly 19-year old that no one could help but like him. He speaks decent English and helped me out in a few of my beginner classes. I was taken by surprise and stunned when I found out that his smile and optimism would no longer grace the camp. Here’s a photo of him (on the left) with Gabriel Tatis, a Dominican player.

OD_Players6

Of course, I wished these guys well when they left, and I’m going to try to keep in contact with them vie email. Unfortunately, there are many more players who have become friends and whom I must leave in a few weeks. I never thought that would happen when I first took the job. It’s going to be a bittersweet departure from the D.R. More later.

The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get

Well, it seems that way; at the least, I’m always a week late in my posts here. Anyway, last Sunday was a great day, as far as sports go, at the Weekend Office. I watched the Yanks score 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to win their 5th straight game, 6-5 over Seattle. Then, I remembered that the Indy 500 was running. I asked one of the waiters to switch the TV and I was lucky enough to catch the last 24 laps of that event, won by Scott Dixon. I think that’s the first Indy I’ve seen live since I left the U.S. back in 2003.

The week before, once again, the Canadian National Junior All-Star team visited the camp to play an exhibition game against the Yankee squad, and, once again, like last year, they kicked rear end, beating the Yanks 13-2 or some such ridiculous score. They’re a very good team, obviously. Sporting flags and banners, lots of Canadian embassy people turned out to watch. Here are a few of them making their way onto the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Canada08-2

Here’s a shot of the game in progress.

Canada08-1

I bought my ticket to Thailand this past week. I fly out of Missoula on July 25th, arriving in Bangkok on July 27th. I’ll probably work on getting my Korean visa there, then head on up to Laos around the 30th or 31st. After spending some laid-back time in the Land of a Million Elephants (not that many left, I’m afraid), I’ll leave on Aug. 24th for Korea, Land of the Morning Calm (but frenetic at any other time of day). Koreans, according to this survey, put in more hours per year on the job than any other people. I can definitely vouch for that. Andong University students put in just as much time, staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, grabbing a couple of hours of shuteye and then going to 9 o’clock classes (so they told me). It’s like a never-ending urge, on the part of the entire country, to succeed at ALL costs. Lose one hour here or half an hour there, and your prospects and your life, become a shambles. It’s utterly ridiculous, in my opinion, but to each their own. It will be quite a cultural warp going from languid Laos to intense Korea, but, having worked there before, I’ll manage just fine because, well, just read the title of this post again. 😛

Today is Opening Day of the Dominican Summer League, but both Yankee squads are traveling to other camps to play, so there will be no opening ceremonies here, like there were last year. Perhaps I’ll tag along with one of the teams. More later.

Post-Election

Since I’m writing this, I obviously wasn’t injured by celebratory gunfire in the aftermath of last week’s elections. In fact, Boca Chica was fairly normal last Saturday–the taxi driver told me that the BIG and crazy celebrations were going on in Santo Domingo and other large cities. There was, in fact, a fairly long line of cars and pickup trucks loaded with people waving the purple banners of the victorious incumbent, Leonel Fernandez, heading out toward the main highway leading to the capital.

Election2

All the candidates here had an identifying campaign color–purple, white and red. This probably made sense in the past when many Dominicans were illiterate (there are still some) but could associate with a color. I confirmed with a Dominican friend that colored ballots with photos of the candidates are used in the voting booth. Anyway, the election craziness is over and things are back to normal in the Dominican Republic. (Hah!)

Here are a couple of Leonel supporters having a few cervezas before joining the parade.

Election1

I FedEx’ed my signed contract and other documents to Korea a few days ago. The process is moving along very nicely, and I hope to receive my visa in a timely manner. I think the documents are all in order, but whenever you’re dealing with a government–well, you just don’t know what other hoops you might have to jump through.

Weather, Wreck and a Few Photos

The weather has certainly changed. Gone are the cool, low-humidity mornings and the moderate afternoons. The sweat that pours out of me on my sunrise jogs has me feeling like I’ve just run through a rain shower. I’ve been wearing long pants to my classes in the afternoon, but I’ll be switching to shorts soon. And my room air-con, which I’ve not had on a whole lot, will now be put to ever more increasing use.

We hadn’t had much rain until last weekend. We had some gentle showers on Friday and Saturday, but Boca Chica had much more, so they told me at the Weekend Office. I think I knew that before I got there. As the Yankee bus to Santo Domingo slowed to let me off in Boca Chica, we noticed a logjam of traffic ahead of us. Skid marks in the watery mud led to a concrete power pole. Here’s what was at the end of those marks:

Boca_Chica_Wreck

This had to have happened not much more than 30 minutes before, since an ambulance arrived as I took the photo. Unbelievably, someone survived the single-vehicle wreck. I glimpsed a guy laid out on the ground, bloody arm and hand outstretched, propped on his elbow. I wasn’t about to get closer to take a photo–very inappropriate, and he was surrounded by a few dozen people as he was loaded into the ambulance. Not a pretty scene.

As promised, here are some photos of the April 24th visit to the camp by the U.S. Military baseball team. I thought it was the Army team, but the guys represent all branches of the military. They practiced with the Yankee players about 4 hours, then returned with some of the Yankee coaches to Santo Domingo, where they gave a baseball clinic to some youngsters. It was an interesting visit, something to break up the daily routine.

Infield practice at first base. The Yankee kid on the left is Reymond Nunez, from the D.R. He’s a top prospect who can crush the ball a mile. He’s got a great attitude and he’s an all-round good guy. Let’s hope he can hit a curve. If so, he could be a big star at the major league level. I wrote about him in an earlier post.

Army_Team1

Here, Coach Mota (in the shorts) gives baserunning instructions. Mota, coincidentally, coached with the Missoula minor league team for a few years in the early ’90s. I kid him that the cops are still looking for him.

Army_Team2

Military team members get ready for practice.

Army_Team3

Stretching before the practice session.

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Here’s one more photo: me with two of the smaller guys on the team. :)

Guillen_Ron_Manuel

If you can’t figure it out, that’s me in the middle. To the left is Luis Guillen, a pitcher, and the other fellow is Manual, the new strength coach. Both are from Venezuela. 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.

RBI_Baseball

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.

Palm_Sunset

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.

Camp_Smoke2

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.

Camp_Smoke1

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.

Beach Talk

I found out that my Weekend Office is owned by Cris Ozuna, brother of Pablo, who plays with the White Sox. It’s interesting that in choosing my “office,” I unknowingly picked one with a strong baseball connection, though you could hardly swing a bat in the D.R. without hitting something connected to the game.

One of the new guys working at The Office asked me about myself and got quite a kick out of the fact that I work with the Yanks, so he introduced me to Cris. I already knew about his brother, who was in The Office the weekend before.

The thing about this area of the beach is that there are a lot of regulars who come here, older expats living in Boca Chica, and the overall ambience is usually friendly and laid back. Not to mention palms swaying in the gentle ocean breeze and good (but not too loud) music playing from the bar just down the beach.

I also get a few questions about how it came about that I work with the Yankees, so I tell people about the English Language Fellow program and its connection with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the State Dept. Unlike people in some countries, Dominicans, for the most part, like Americans. It seems that almost every Dominican I’ve met has at least one relative living in the U.S.

That’s a thing I’ve noticed about Laotians, too. They seem to genuinely like Americans, despite what we did to their country during the Vietnam War. (See my previous post on this subject.) It’s always nice to be liked, eh?

Back to the beach. There are quite a few ladies walking the sand who will give you a massage, pedicure, or manicure, or who will work on your hair. This guy seemed to want the works, with three ladies giving him a makeover.

Boca_Beauty_Workers

Oh, yes, I’ve finally started adding photos of my time in Montana this past summer and fall. Click here to have a look at Big Sky Country. A lot of the photos were taken from a moving car with a point-and-shoot camera, so the quality isn’t that great, though it’s not that bad either. Enjoy. More later.