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Sergio, who is Juan Pablo’s doctor in Guatemala, is a player and fan of baseball. We often talk about stories from the game, but more focused around softball, which is very popular in Guatemala. In the past, he told me about how he is a pitcher on a fast pitch softball team and described his ability to throw several types of pitches. I always thought it would be neat to play with him in a game sometime, but never imagined that it would actually happen. I checked in with him before our trip and sure enough, he and his team were playing Sunday morning and he wanted me to join them. I was very excited about the opportunity to play ball in another country.
We arrived to the field early in the morning where there were several softball games taking place in the complex. I could imagine what they were thinking, here comes a gringo onto our turf. I began to realize that I was not prepared for the game as everyone had on pants and matching hats and shirts. All I had were shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Running a little late, Sergio spotted me outside the fence and called me on to the field. Since I was a friend of his, many on the team were very welcoming of me. The coach explained that I couldn’t play in shorts, but needed pants. Our driver, William, allowed me to borrow his jeans for the game. Juan Pablo and Emily joined me in the dugout as a couple other wives and children were also there. I observed the game and realized that everyone takes the game very seriously and are competitive. The other team consisted of a bunch of young guys from Nicaragua. I had never seen this before, but they had someone dedicated to beating a drum from their dugout throughout the game. It was almost like World Series atmosphere. Sergio was the starting pitcher and blew me away with his energy and abilities as a pitcher. He proved himself to me as he was bringing about a 70 mph underhand pitch and some wicked breaking balls. He ended up having 14 strikeouts that game! Later, I learned that he has won several league awards for most strikeouts. He disagreed when I referred to him as Cy Young.
I came in about the 4th inning as catcher and was placed in the batting lineup. Since this was fast pitch, I had to wear all of the gear and try to move around behind the plate in jeans that were two sizes too small. I wasn’t allowed to call pitches for Sergio, but take signs from the coach in the dugout. I figured there were going to be some differences in the gameplay, but I was just thrilled to be out there. I hadn’t played any form of ball since summer, so I knew it may take a few minutes to shake the rust loose. After taking a few pitches from Sergio, I felt as comfortable as I could be. He struck out two batters and I threw out a runner at second to end the inning.
When I approached the batter’s box and stepped in, the intensity was building up and the drummer was beating rapidly from the other dugout. I was set and ready to rip anything that came near me. I love playing in competitive games like this no matter if in the US or abroad. I wanted so much to drive one out of the park, but after taking the count to 3-2, I grounded out to 1st. The next inning, I went back into catch and the other team had a runner on with the score 1-0, our lead. The runner attempted to steal second and my throw was to the bag well ahead of our shortstop and the ball went on to center field. In baseball, I’m so used to just getting the ball to the bag and depend on the infielders to be there. One of the differences in gameplay, I assume. Eventually, the runner made it to third and the pressure was on to hold him there. Sergio fired his targeted rising fastball, which got away from me and the runner crossed the plate. When this happened, the spirit of the other dugout was released as they randomly lit up some firecrackers and began to bang the drum as if they had won the game. Though I should have caught the ball, I had to laugh at their enthusiasm. I didn’t really want to go into so much detail, but you just had to have been there :)
I ended up going into centerfield the next inning, then hit a single up the middle in my last at bat, but as a team, we lost the game 2-1. I had a great time being the only gringo in the park, aside from Emily. I think JP had a fun time as well, but a majority of the time, he was just playing in the sand.