The directions said to follow the brook to the footbridge. It wasn’t as much a bridge as it was a steel grate laid across the two damp banks. I hadn’t even stepped off the dusty forest path onto this “bridge” when I heard it. Above the whispering leaves, the hush of the breeze and the shrill calls of birds, I heard the best sound in the world – the crack of a baseball bat.
Prague’s Eagles’ baseball fields are a fifteen minute bus ride out of the city center and a quick walk down a hill, with a street so overgrown with untrimmed trees and shrubs that it could be a deserted path in a ghost town. Truthfully, it probably just hasn’t been taken care of since spring fell upon us a few weeks ago.
Canon strung around my neck, I approached the five baseball and softball fields and every inch of me – from my sun-deprived skin to my camera-itchy fingers – was ready for a baseball game.
I covered college ball for two seasons in San Diego and, oddly enough, it was one of the hardest parts of leaving home. Baseball made me an addict for windy spring skies, warm sunshine and the molassesy pace of an afternoon on the bleachers.
On this particular occasion, I found a slope of dandelion speckled grass to sit on and searched the softball field for my student. Blonde and vivacious, Gabča is not just one of my loudest students; she’s one of my coolest. She walks like thug, pushes her friends around like a tomboy and giggles like a princess. She’s a dedicated Marlin’s fan but we’ve overcome that through our mutual disdain for the Yankees. I was pretty stoked when she invited me to come watch her play at one of Prague’s international baseball competitions.
So me and my Canon settled into the grass a few feet below several baseball players who’d come to watch the girls. I want to assume they were Bulgarian but they kept switching languages so I never found out for sure. (Actually, I was pretty okay not understanding what they were saying, based on the number of English cuss words I heard).
Gabča’s team was playing a group from Germany, but most of the players and coaches seemed to be American. One even had the American flag painted onto her helmet.
The lady Eagles maintained a high level of energy for the duration of the game. Having spent two years in the dugout with college guys spitting and cussing, it was refreshing – albiet somewhat grating – to hear girls singing baseball jodies and chanting random things like, “Eat! Bananas! Eat, eat bananas! Go! Bananas! Go, go bananas!” while dancing around in the dugout.
I was pretty happy in the grass working on my farmer’s tan, but there were five fields and I was itching to see some baseball (nothing against softball, but there is a difference between the two). So I picked up my camera and left the cussing Bulgarians behind.
The path through the different ballparks wound and twisted and I found myself following it as naturally as a cat finds itself in high, inexplicable places. I’m a wanderer.
Past the row of flag poles with banners from some dozen countries in Europe and West Asia (is that a real geographical term? Sometimes I make things up), under the bleachers where England was finishing a game with a team wearing red and green, I finally plopped down on a sunny bank next to two men from Lithuania. They also had cameras and I figured they had scouted the vantage points and decided this to be the best one – why repeat their efforts? I made myself comfortable and they didn’t seem to mind the intrusion.
Lithuania was playing Israel.
Can we just stop there for a moment?
Lithuania was playing Israel.
While once-occupied Czech Republic swapped mitts with Germany and American, English and Belgian ballplayers watched and laughed and cussed, the Northern European country Lithuania played the ancient-yet-newly-founded country of Israel.
This was less baseball and more a picture of what the world should look like – organized competition and cooperation with every team striving towards individual success, yet sharing a common joy and therefore, camaraderie. If teenagers can manage this, why can’t the rest of the world?
I get itchy feet. So after an inning and a half of the Lithuania-Israel game, I looked for the nearest food stand (because I also get insatiably hungry when I’m happy or sad or have emotions of any kind).
They do sausages instead of hot dogs here. No complaints. No buns, either. They give you a slice or two of bread and let your dole out your own mustard. I ordered a root beer but got a normal beer instead. I’m not sure if that’s because I ordered wrong or because whichever Czech national wrote their menu in English didn’t actually know what root beer is.
Sunshine makes thinking easier and, under the influence, of three things I became completely sure: 1. The competitive nature in human beings is both our best and our worst quality, 2. The world is much, much smaller than I once thought it was, and 3. I want to always live near people who play baseball.