Baseball the international language

Hamburg Stealers – Spieler

Before we start the text, I would like to introduce myself. I’m 30 years old and coach baseball in Hamburg, Germany. I’ve had the privilege of making my hobby a full-time job, so I’ve been able to coach kids for over 10 years now.
Besides that, I want to show once again, how important baseball, or sports in general, can be for young people. Baseball in particular is a great door opener for integration and friendship. During these pandemic times we were required to reduce any unnecessary contact but as time went on, it became more evident how important these social connections are for people and especially for young kids.

I’m currently writing this text on the beautiful island of Madeira. I’m outside on the balcony of my hotel room, I can see the mountains nearby, and I have an amazing view of the ocean. This whole time I am thinking: Wow, how beautiful this planet is and how mind blowing it is that nature is able to create such great places. It’s 7:36 in the morning, the sun is just starting to rise, and the only two things I hear are the ocean and the soft tunes of Reggae emitting from my speakers.
This is very peaceful and it’s nearly impossible to imagine having this all year around. It feels like heaven. Tomorrow I will be back in Hamburg. A very beautiful city as well, but also very cold and very busy. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with baseball or communication?” – I just wanted to set the scene and remind you of a feeling you’ve possibly had on one of your vacations. Maybe you’ve asked yourself: “Should I just stay here and enjoy the sun all year? Maybe restart from a nicer place on earth?”

But now let me get to the actual topic. If you’ve asked this question before, 99% of the time the answer is a ticket back home. Because we have to, because it’s scary. We have a house, a job, our family and friends. But if we take an honest look in the mirror, these reasons are mostly excuses. You could get a house on this island, find a job, and make new friends if you really wanted to. We’re scared because we don’t know the language or the laws for example. What would life actually look like here, without our friends? With a new job?
I’ve asked these questions myself and my flight home to Hamburg leaves tomorrow. When you read this, I’ll already be there. 🙂
And then there’s Richii, the 11 year old baseball player from Maebashi, Gunna in Japan. This young kid came to Hamburg on April 1st in 2021 during the Covid 19 lockdown. Richii came to Germany with his mother and now attends a Japanese school in Hamburg.
In the summer of 2021 he joined the Hamburg Stealers under 12 team. His first practice was on a Friday afternoon on a full-dirt soccer field. After this practice several people called me and said he is really good player and could potentially play for the academy. So the following Tuesday I went to the under 12 team practice to take a look at this young ballplayer. I talked to him in German, and after ten seconds I realized he couldn’t understand me. So I apologized and switched to English but after 10-12 words the same thing happened. He stared at me and said in his cute Asian accent: “No English.”
So I reached out to his mom, Miho, who speaks wonderful English. We talked about Richii and decided that he should join the under 15 team for the rest of the year. This way he can play even more baseball.
So this little Japanese kid is with the under 15 team now. Richii has great skills but is still pretty small for the big field. He went to practices and played some games with the under 15 team and the best thing about it was how the kids welcomed Richii and how inviting they all were to him. Very few words are needed for them to understand each other. Baseball has been the ultimate international language. After a few games, we played in the state finals against the Hamburg Marines. The Marines had a huge pitcher on the mound who threw really fast and this young warrior Richii looked at me with an intimidated face and asked: “Pitcher, him today?” I turned to google translator on my phone and asked him in Japanese if he was scared or anything like that. He read the question and smiled. He walked away grabbing his bat, did some warm up swings, and smiled back at me. No words needed. He was ready to play. Richii had a strikeout, a groundout, and drew a walk. After this game it was clear to me that Richii felt really good with his new team, even without the ability to communicate with the other kids.
Two weeks later we played in the under 15 German championships and Richii came with us as a backup player. During the tournament he only had two at bats in 5 games and was noticeably a bit angry or sad or maybe disappointed that he didn’t get much playing time. For me it was impressive how this little guy even spent the whole weekend with the team. All those weird Germans that can’t eat with chopsticks or even how they think below-average Asian food is good. I still remember his face as if it were yesterday when I asked him in the hotel in Paderborn: “Richii good food?” He looked up to me and said: “No” and continued to eat his noodles. It was awesome! 72 hours with all non-Japanese speaking people and once again, for Richii, the only language that was important: Playing baseball.

After the tournament he officially joined our academy. During the winter we do a lot of running and conditioning. Let me put it this way: It’s definitely not Richii’s favorite part of getting better. But because of the language barrier he can just stare at me or sometimes he will say: “My legs, fire.”
But even with the new group of kids, he feels very comfortable because all the kids and coaches speak his favorite language: baseball.

I write these lines to remind you that sports can be the key for social involvement. Because of baseball Richii was able to find new friends without speaking German or English. He was able to integrate into a new community in a new country with a different culture even though learning and speaking the language is usually an essential piece of that equation. It reminded me once again of the possibilities and power of baseball. I can’t speak to the political support of sports in other countries but here in Germany I think it is terrible. I believe politicians could do a much better job of using sports to help people from foreign countries integrate into the German system.
Also, I want to use these words for a little encouragement and to serve as an example that sometimes we must do things on our own and be free in our decisions, to not be led by fear or excuses. Obviously I have a huge amount of respect for Richii for challenging himself in Germany. And of course, I want to give every other kid and adult the respect and credit they deserve for taking the steps necessary to make a change in their life, to move forward and integrate into a new world or new culture.