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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.

On My Last Legs

[Edited 12/12/2007–I forgot to put a subject line in this posting, so I added one on this date.]

First, thanks to everyone for the birthday greetings. I hope I’m still still posting to this blog at the same time next year.

Everyone departed from the camp today, leaving for their respective homes in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Except for a few security guards, I’m the only one here tonight, and I’m feeling quite lonely and alone. Teaching everyday it’s easy to become friends with at least some of your students, especially if you’re living with them 24/7, so, naturally, I miss many of them already. Most of them will be returning to the camp in February, so I’ll see them soon. I said goodbye to as many of them as I could before I beat a path to the Boca Chica beach, my last visit there for a few months. Unfortunately, there are no good beaches in Santo Domingo. Perhaps I’ll have to return on a free weekend or, better, spend several days on one of the Dominican Republic’s world-class beaches of Bavaro or Punta Cana around Christmastime, a slow season, believe it or not, because many tourists stay home for the holidays.

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson has been working at the camp the last few days and I caught a glimpse of him as he ran by me going to his ride to Santo Domingo. Victor Mata, whose official title eludes me, but which I’d guess to be Head of Baseball Operations at the camp and who is also one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, said goodbye to me this morning. He also asked if I had gotten an autographed baseball from Reggie. No, I hadn’t. He gave me one and also another signed by future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera. Wow! What a couple of surprise gifts. Thanks, Victor.

Like I stated before, I’m the only one here. It sure is quiet. You can almost here the cold, lonely stars whispering their way across the heavens. The surrounding dark and mysterious forest and scrub land is silent tonight with the lack of any breeze. I often wonder why there is a large fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the complex, separating it from the encompassing countryside. Why do we need security guards? Is there something we should guard against or fear? Well, anyway, it is sure is quiet.

Whoa, what was THAT sound? Just a sec while I take a look outside . . .

Hello . . . Who’s there?
. .
What the hell is THAT?

Oh, my God . . . . . . . . . . . . !!! It’s . . . . .

Trip to San Juan de la Maguana

It’s about time I posted another entry, since I told a number of people I would soon write about the team’s trip a few Sundays ago to the western part of the country. It was interesting, beautiful, touching, and, at times, crazy and out of control. (Here’s a brief press release about the trip and the visit to the orphanage, which I described in the previous post.)

We left the camp around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18th. Making the trip were all of the players, about 60 of them, some of the Dominican and visiting American coaches, Abel Guerra, Ani Sanchez (the general manager of the baseball camp), four Americans from the USAID section of the Embassy and a busload of press people. Quite a big deal.

Our destination was a small village near San Juan de la Maguana, in the western part of the Dominican Republic, close to the Haitian border, an area that would take about 5 hours to reach.

We stopped for gas just outside of Boca Chica, which didn’t sit too well with a few people. Why didn’t the drivers gas up before the trip? Abel got a bit upset when one of the coaches on the bus carrying the players let the gang off the bus to get snacks. Getting them back on took a while and was a bit like herding cats.

We stopped in Santo Domingo to pick up a few more of the coaches, and then we were off to the hinterlands, four hours away. We passed through some very beautiful country along the way, transitioning from seaside to mountains.

Below is a photo of the mountains near our final destination, countryside that is representative of much of what we passed through.

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On the way, most of the several players who rode with us on the “adult bus,” as one wag put it, slept. However, they’re real camera hams, as you can tell from this shot taken after they finished snoozing.

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We finally reached San Juan and the end of our journey, I thought. Nope. We still had quite a few kilometers to go, eventually traveling to the small village of El Cercado, where the food warehouse of “Food For the Poor” (FFP) is located. FFP is a religious organization (as far as I can determine) that provides food, housing and other necessities to “the poorest of the poor,” according to their website.

From Cercado, we traveled about 20 more kilometers to the small, mountainous village whose bridge to the outside world had been washed away by the flooding caused by the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Noel. Poverty-stricken in the best of times, this isolation from the rest of the country is only increasing their hardship.

At the FFP warehouse, we had been joined by a deuce-and-a-half truck loaded with large bags of rice. The team’s job was to transfer the rice to a couple of smaller trucks waiting on the other side of the small stream where the bridge had disappeared in the flood. Here’s part of the crowd that had gathered there.

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The players and coaches formed a human chain and passed the food over to the other trucks.

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At the time, in my mind, I questioned why the big truck couldn’t have just brought the rice to the village, rather than going through this laborious process. Part of the reason could have to do with the publicity that was generated, but the terrain at the stream crossing was fairly steep and confining, and there was another larger river farther down the road, though it was shallow and flat. Perhaps the heavily laden deuce-and-a-half would have mired in the river bed.

At any rate, the rice was transferred and brought to the distribution point just on the far side of the larger river, where it was handed out to the villagers. That sounds a lot more tranquil than the reality of the situation. The trucks were mobbed, literally almost overrun by hungry people. There was no organized system in place for giving out the food–just lug it over the side of the trucks to the outstretched hands. A few of us commented on the process and lack of organization, but I later overheard a few of the FFP honchos saying that they had tried other methods, but nothing else had worked. So, chaos ruled. At times I feared for the safety of those in the trucks and for the numerous children milling around the area, but I didn’t notice any calamities or injuries. I can barely imagine what the scene must be like in places such as Darfur, where thousands of hungry people are camped, waiting for food. Below is one scene of the chaos.

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At last, all the food was gone. Many folks were pleading for more, but there was none. I hope that family, friends and neighbors helped out those who were unfortunate enough to not have received anything. This sweet, older lady got hers, though.

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We arrived at the camp about 8:30 that night after an uneventful return trip. Everyone was tired but satisfied with the effort. Let’s hope, however, that efforts like this are unnecessary in the future.

Happy Birthday to me today! More later.

Birthday Greetings

Yup, today finds another number added to my “official” age, but it’s only a number (what number?–nunayer business). I’m not doing any celebrating; I haven’t partied it up for my birthday in many years. I did receive birthday greetings from Nai in Laos as he was sipping on a cold Beer Lao in my honor. I also heard from my brother and others. Thanks to all who remembered.

Well, the campus is starting to clear out. There is only one team now, instead of two. 12-15 very excited Venezuelans and the two Mexicans left for their homes this past Saturday, along with the one Cuban fellow, who went to Florida. This Friday everyone will leave. There are a few Panamanians who will be flying back to Central America and the rest are Dominicans from around the country. I’ll be moving back to Santo Domingo, working there with UASD until Feb. 1, when the campus reopens and the players, some old, some new, return.

Well, for the next couple of months, then, I probably won’t have any more new sunrise/sunset pics, so I’ll leave you with this impressionistic view of a recent sunrise. More later.

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Occasionally when I talk to Nai in Laos he tells me about birthdays. Instead of saying “Today is my father’s birthday” or “Today is my sister’s birthday” he says “Today is Happy Birthday to my Father.” Well, then, today is Happy Birthday to Me! Yep, time flies, but I don’t feel a day older than . . . ummm . . . a day older than . . . uhhh . . . well, nevermind. I forget! (Which should tell you something.) Thanks everyone who sent me ecard greetings. That definitely saves the Montana folks from having to slog through at least 12 inches of snow to get to their mailboxes. Better you than me, although I hear that the mountains south of Meknes have a lot of snow. The ski resorts should be booming this weekend. (Yes, some African countries get their share of snow in winter.)

The first day of classes seemed to go ok; as I expected, my students are quite sharp and they’ll keep me on my toes. Since our school does not use any textbooks, I find that I’m doing a lot of copying. That’s the main reason I broke down and bought a printer/scanner/copier, an HP 1513, a few weekends ago. It sure has come in handy.

After all the rain and cold we had on Saturday, today and yesterday were very sunny and pleasant, but each night seems to be getting colder. More later.