April 18, 2013

The Future of Alexandra Baseball

When I learned, sometime in the middle of last year, that we'd be moving back to the U.S., one of my first concerns was what would happen to Alexandra Baseball, the township baseball team that had become my personal outreach project more or less by accident. (If you're not familiar with it, catch up on my past blog posts about it here and here; if you ARE familiar with it, please become a Facebook fan here so that you can follow their activities.)

Photo courtesy of www.2Summers.net

Not that I was too worried. There were baseballs being thrown in Alexandra long before my arrival, and I'm very confident the glorious thwockkk of ball hitting leather will be heard over its tin roofs for many years to come. I wasn't the one who started it, and it would by no means end with me either. Tedius, who over the years has so ably performed the gritty task of rounding up players for league games and scraping together the pooled cash to eke out the taxi fare, is still there to hold the team together, run practices, and organize the occasional Funfest among the local schools. There is still a field to play on, even if it isn't always mowed, and there is still the Gauteng Baseball Federation, even if it doesn't seem to have any funding of its own.

And yet I fretted. There was so much still to be done, so many improvements to be made, so much more help to give, so many more kids to inspire. What I needed was a successor to hand everything over to. But who?

It just so happened that into my life walked Natalie. Those things usually only happen in movies, but her real-life timing was impeccable. A fellow American expat whose kids had made the switch to South African schools and, as a result, fallen in love with cricket and rugby as their sports of choice, Natalie brought the two things needed for this endeavor: A love of baseball, and the wish to get her family involved in some form of outreach to the underprivileged. And, as a bonus, she came with a husband, Andy, who had coached Little League baseball for years and was yearning to get back onto the sidelines (without having to learn what a Googly is, or silly mid-off, square leg, or slip).

I mean, how much more perfect could this be? To not only have someone to help organize things and make the occasional sandwiches for hungry players, but to actually give these kids a very much needed additional coach, American no less?

The new caretakers of my Alexandra Baseball project:
 Andy, Natalie, Peter, and John

I'm sure Natalie must have felt a little overwhelmed, having just shot me an email to see if there was any way for her to get involved alongside me, thinking of perhaps attending the occasional game. Instead, she was going home after our first meeting owning the entire project, armed with a folder of paperwork and a memory stick full of pictures and fundraising letters.

Nor did she probably envision running those typical errands that can have you crisscrossing through Alexandra for an entire day, being dragged this way and that way by locals that know full well that they may not have access to a car again for another month. Remember Three Cups of Tea? Where Greg raises the funds for a school in a painstaking labor of love, only to arrive at a raging river with the first supplies, realizing that a bridge will have to be built first before the supplies can get to the village? It's the same in Alexandra. You might lend your gardener to go and cut the grass of the baseball field (theoretically this should be done by the municipality in Alexandra, but as anyone knows, "theoretically" doesn't get you very far in Africa), only to find a lawnmower completely out of gas; when you return with the gas, you might then learn that a crucial part isn't working and have to first set out to get the part repaired.

But overwhelmed or not, Natalie and Andy, together with their two sons, have been the best thing that ever could have happened to Alexandra Baseball. Andy has coached the U13 team to a stellar season, falling just short of a league title, and Natalie has done all the things so sorely needed, from helping Tedius get the grass on the field cut (so that Alexandra gets the benefit of home games, just like the other teams, helping bring down the enormous expense of transport) to stocking the bathrooms with toilet paper and negotiating a special deal with her neighborhood grocer for discounted food and spreading peanut butter on forty sandwiches between games. Their son Peter, too old for the team, has taken on the job of first base coach, and their younger son John has joined the team and formed some very special bonds. Most of all, they are there every Sunday supporting and cheering on the team, which may not seem like much coming from our American suburban life where the sidelines at kids' sporting events are always full of clapping parents, but trust me, in Alexandra it makes all the difference in the world.

But not only that. Andy and Natalie were actually able to draw on the support of their previous baseball league in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Dilworth Little League. A brochure outlining their need, complete with wonderful pictures detailing the day-to-day realities in the life of an Alexandra baseball player was put together, a donation drive was organized, collection boxes were put out, and so far they've collected 80 pairs of much-needed baseball pants, 32 belts, 23 pairs of cleats, 42 pairs of socks, 3 helmets, 3 gloves, 5 bats, balls and catcher's equipment, with more still coming in.

Yield from one of our previous donation drives

Me sorting through donations with Tedius and Cedric in 2012. When it comes to clothing,
we'll take any team jerseys, not limited to baseball, and cleats of any sort. The jerseys above
were generously donated by the baseball team of Kettle Moraine High School in Wisconsin.

This is where I need YOUR help (you knew it was coming, didn't you): If you've followed my Alexandra story in the past, you will know that actually getting the stuff to South Africa is the real challenge. Shipping is expensive and involves so much paperwork and bureaucracy that I'd much rather volunteer for a root canal than do that again. And the truth is that the money going towards shipping could be much better used to support the kids directly.

What works best is summoning the help of prospective expats moving to Johannesburg from the United States. All we need is a small corner of your shipping container, if indeed you're shipping your furniture, and we'll handle the rest. If you can help in this way, even at some later time in the year, please comment below or contact me.

There are other ways in which you can help, from contacting your local high school or baseball club for used equipment donations to finding a corporate sponsor. The best way to get started would be to print out the Fundraising Brochure Natalie has put together and take it to a venue that might be prepared to help.

If you'd rather like to make a cash donation, we are always grateful for those as well. They go a long way towards financing food and transport.



I'm glad I can still help the team by continuing to spread the story in this forum. Once again, if you haven't done so yet, please LIKE the Alexandra Baseball Facebook page so that you can be updated about all that's going on.  But most of all I'm glad that the future of Alexandra Baseball is in good hands.