All jokes aside, the trip thus far has been controlled chaos at its finest. Our translators, Victor and Andrea, along with our bus drivers, Javier and Fanor, have been artfully steering a tornado of 50-plus from sight to sight while maintaining impressively calm demeanor and poise, even through countless shenanigans only a ball team from South Dakota could dream up. They never get frustrated. They never get annoyed. They just keep on smilin'. This is their country, and they want to pass on what it means to be a Nicaraguan to all of us, even if most of us won't fully appreciate what that means for some time to come.
To me, that's the crazy part. We come here, gear in hand and the American way on our sleeves thinking we're going to help people less fortunate than ourselves. That's not why we're here. That's not even the half of it. And I think the moment I realized this was during game four of the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball World Series.
In order to appreciate baseball in Nicaragua you have to have a sense of the history of this country. For close to two decades, American Marines occupied Nicaragua before the legendary Sandino pushed them out in the 1930's. Per our history lessons, the Marines were mostly unwelcome in the country, but did leave behind two great American traditions: beer and baseball.
Boer, out of Managua, had the lead 2-1 in the series with the Rivas Gigantes, and the fourth installment was set to be played in Managua. As a team, you could say that any World Series game would be a no-brainer to attend, even (or especially) if it's in a foreign country. We know baseball. Let's see how their four team league compares to the big leagues we've all grown to love. It was safe to say that most of us were expecting an independent ball playoff game atmosphere at best, and we could not have been more wrong. The game was set to start at 6 p.m. so we arrived around 5:15 p.m. to see some pregame before first pitch. I can, with 100 percent confidence, say that none of us expected what would happen over the next 4 hours.
Do you remember those vuvuzelas that people used to blow when the World Cup was in South Africa? Someone told the Nicaraguans about those. The buzzing even outside the stadium was numbing to the senses. Inside, it was louder and more evident that this was no American baseball game.
Our pack of gringos made our way to a gated mezzanine down the left field line. Apparently our $8 was enough for not only tickets, but arguably VIP treatment as well. But if you think the price of ticket is in any way indicative of the quality of experience to be had, you're still thinking in the American way. This is Nicaragua.
The aforementioned buzzing never stopped, but not one person complained. The atmosphere was electric. People weren't sitting and watching quietly, they were up cheering and dancing. Mascots weren't just taking pictures with little kids, but going crazy on top of the dugouts accompanied with a team of dancers. Innings weren't a time to sit and watch quietly. It was time to be the loudest. Music would blare, chants would break out with admirable consistency, and if there was an announcer giving names of players before their at bats, no one could hear it. They didn't even announce the starting lineups. It wasn't about the players. It was about the teams. It was about the pure love of the game, on and off the field.
It was a spectacle. Countless times we'd look to each other in shock and awe before cheering our heads off for teams half of us couldn't even pronounce. We'd never seen anything like this, but we couldn't think of anything better if we tried. Being there was like being in Europe for a futbol game, or so we imagined. The passion was downright ridiculous, and we were jealous. We found ourselves envying the very people we came to help.
And that's when it hit me. Because we flew from a place where we lived in a house with electricity and reliable plumbing and had things worth more than a Nicaraguan made in a year, we made the mistake of thinking they needed our help here. Materialistically speaking, yes, most families could use some supplies and communities in the rural countryside needed some baseball equipment. But if you think they needed us, you're wrong. We all were.
Nicaraguans don't have a whole lot, and that's completely fine with them. That's all they've ever known. They haven't been numbed by the constant search for an LED TV bigger than thy neighbor's. They have their families, their friends, and whatever they choose to do with their days on this earth. They just live. And that's beautiful. They call this a third world, but we're the ones who've created diseases of obsession relating to social media and electronics. We've created a paradigm in which aspirations of happiness never stop rising into the unattainable, therefore most of us can never be fully and truly happy. We live each day in hopes that tomorrow will be the day we can finally be reach our goals. Nicaraguans are happy today.
All of us, myself undoubtedly included, made the mistake of thinking this trip was a favor from big brother to a little third world country. Nope. They've done more for my point of view than I could ever hope to do with my nose in a book, my eyes glued to a TV, or at the desk of my first job. No amount of supplies from home can thank them enough for that. Life is precious. If you're not careful, you'll live your whole life chasing happiness only to realize you could have been happy all along.
Baseball is more than our sport. It's the metaphorical difference between our worlds. We play baseball in massive, technologically advanced stadiums, sitting quietly, waiting for something to cheer for. Nicaraguans never stop celebrating. The game itself is the reason to stand and yell and go crazy for your team. We shouldn't hope to see the longest home run in history, or the next Top Ten play on Sportscenter. We should embrace the fact that we get to witness the game, in all its glory and magnificence, at all.
I'll remember the faces of the kids I met in the rural communities. I'll remember how it felt to give the game I love to people who cherish it even more than I. But I'll never stop appreciating the lessons that Nicaragua taught me. Life is so much more than a highlight of the best plays of the game on ESPN. It's about celebrating each and every pitch, every swing, and every play, good or bad, for the love of the game. And I can't think of a better reason to live than that.
With love from Leon,
#12 Troy Pilkington
Baseball is more than our sport.
LEÓN, Nicaragua - Greetings from 90-plus degrees at 7:30 in the morning!
I'll tell you what, nothing will make you appreciate subzero temperatures like being in a perpetual state of sweatiness.
But we digress...
The days of culture shock are starting to diminish and more and more we all find ourselves comfortable with being uncomfortable. He'll never tell you, but my guess is half the reason Coach Huber chose to bring us with him this time around is so he can spend half of last year's hotel budget this year and have 47 very appreciative players regardless.