Asbury College student brings baseball to Africa

WILMORE, KY— For many Americans, baseball wouldn’t be the same without winning streaks (or losing, depending on your favorite team), double plays or the occasional Grand Slam. For a group of Zambian children, a game of baseball can be played with rocks for bases, a metal pipe for a bat and a single ball. There are no gloves in this baseball game, nor are there shoes for many of the players. There are no parents cheering them on, either.

gregs.jpgThis summer, Greg Steinsdoerfer, a rising senior at Asbury College, earned an Asbury Initiative Grant paying his way to return to Zambia to continue the work he began as a high school student in Illinois.

Steinsdoerfer worked with World Vision and the area development program on several projects, including opening the Prevention of soccerchildren.jpgMother to Child Transmission Center (PMTC). This program helps mothers stop passing HIV/AIDS on to their children during pregnancy, childbirth and through breastfeeding. Nearly one million, or one in 10 people in Zambia, have HIV or AIDS—plummeting the life expectancy to just 37 years. AIDS has left 500,000 children orphaned, many of whom have lost both father and mother to the illness. Little did he know, Steinsdoerfer would introduce a new pastime for these children.

Steinsdoerfer lived among the people in a village called Kakolo with no electricity or running water for most of the summer. While he adjusted to life without showers, washing machines and his favorite foods, he found he missed something—baseball. One weekend, the avid Chicago White Sox fan decided to gather a group of children together to play. While these children all loved soccer—many times fashioning their own balls out of plastic bags, string and whatever else they can find—they had never heard of America’s favorite pastime. So it might seem that Steinsdoerfer would have his work cut out for him.

“It took a good 10 minutes to explain all the rules,” he said. “People picked it up faster than I expected…[they] have excellent hand-eye [coordination] when it comes to hitting—in fact, rarely do they miss,” said Steinsdoerfer.
These young players aren’t quite right ready for the big leagues yet. While they hit really well, throwing the ball with any accuracy was a challenge, Steinsdoefer noted.

The children didn’t let that deter them from trying, however.

“They liked it so much that Saturday they played until we couldn’t see anymore,” he said. “They begged to play again on Sunday. On Sunday we had full teams to play. We even stole most of the fans away from the big soccer game going on! The final score to the first-ever baseball game in the history of Kakolo was 31-16. And it will certainly not the last game.”
ESPN sports writer Jim Caple got wind of Steinsdoerfer’s work with the children and wrote about it in his online column .

Caple wrote, “There’s just one small problem. They need another ball. In other words, I need to get some baseballs to a remote Zambian village. They may be smaller than soccer balls, but they are still plenty big enough for the entire world to grip.”

Upon Caple’s pledge, Steinsdoerfer received an inbox full of e-mails from the writer with requests from people asking to help by sending baseballs and equipment. Major League Baseball has also joined in the efforts by sending 48 baseballs.

“I did not expect this kind of a response,” Steinsdoerfer said. “They have made a huge difference in the lives of the children here—more than they will ever be able to realize. These children have nothing and when they are given a ball, they do not let it go for years. Two years ago, I came and passed out very small foam balls and I came back [this year] and they still have what is left—tattered and torn. Each ball will be loved.”

zambianchildren.jpgWith the time left he has in Zambia, Steinsdoerfer will work to get the Zambian baseball program off the ground. He has recruited coaches to take over when he leaves and several children to play. He has also contacted government officials in the capital. The donated equipment and baseballs are to arrive within a few days. “Here I am missing baseball, thinking I will not have a chance to see it or play it until I get back and now baseball has come here.”

More than that, this will provide more activity for the children in the village who desperately need something to do. Since the schools are so crowded, children can only spend two hours a day in the classroom. The rest of the time they are left to wander the streets. “Often they play soccer, but you can only play that for so long,” he said. “More often they end up at the bar, because the bar has music and a radio. I hope that by playing baseball, this will get them away from the bar and its negative impacts. Since baseball involves a lot of thinking and communication, I hope that it also increases their intellectual ability, as well as help them develop different motor coordination.”

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