Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Five MLB scouts were in Panama looking for the next Rod Carew or Mariano Rivera-Matt Martell, The Daily Collegian (Penn State)

3/15/17, "A day at the ballpark," The Daily Collegian (Penn State), Matt Martell

"I spent last week in Panama City (Panama) with Penn State’s international reporting class. It was the greatest week of my life.

The purpose of the class is for a small group of hand-picked college journalism students to learn the job of a foreign correspondent.

My story is about the current state of Panamanian baseball. So, for a week, I set out to learn as much as possible about baseball in Panama. I talked to scouts, teenage players, coaches, fans and sports reporters.

I left the country with not only a better understanding of Panamanian culture, but I also developed a connection with others through the game I love.

It was Thursday when I set out to watch a practice. Players at the PTY Baseball Academy started their workouts at 8 a.m., as they do every weekday morning. They practiced on a field similar to the Sandlot for three hours. Five scouts from Major League Baseball teams were there watching, hoping to find the next Rod Carew or Mariano Rivera.

Sometime around 10, I approached three ballplayers testing their defensive skills with a game of pepper. They ranged from ages 14-16. I asked for the bat by pointing at it because I didn’t speak enough Spanish to verbally ask for it.

He gave it to me, and for the next five minutes or so, I hit grounders to the three players. Whichever one scooped up the grounder lobbed it back to me and I’d hit another one to the next player. Then, one of them jogged over to me. He was wearing Colorado Rockies apparel because he had recently signed a contract to play in their Minor League system.

He handed me a glove, grabbed a bat and pointed to where his friends were standing. It was my turn to take the field.

The next 10 minutes breezed by in the 95-degree heat. I snagged the skipping grounders off the rubble field and tossed them back to him.

We smiled and laughed, but we didn’t say a word to one another. We didn’t have to.

In those moments, I wasn’t interviewing the players and scribbling down notes, but they were still telling me their stories. The bouncing baseballs were the airwaves through which we communicated. In those moments, I began to understand the essence of baseball.

Baseball connects cultures. It unites races and creeds. It’s the ultimate cliche, yet unequivocally unique. It’s imperfectly perfect. It’s love and hate. War and peace. It’s universal. It’s life.

Baseball helped me understand that even though the players and I live worlds apart and speak different languages, we are forever entwined through the 15 minutes we spent together without a care in the world.

They weren’t worried about making it to the majors, and I wasn’t worried about the declining journalism job-market. We were at ease. We were having the time of our lives.

When I realized I should let them get back to their practice, I looked at Enrique, the Rockies prospect. I flipped him the glove, held out my fist and said, “Gracias.”

He nodded and pressed his knuckles against mine before he jogged out to shortstop to practice turning double plays.

The moment was over, but the memory had just begun."
"Matt Martell is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His email is mtm5481@psu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @mmartell728."

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