Baseball in Haiti

The smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of a ball hitting a bat and the feel of a freshly oiled mitt all signify the beginning of baseball season. It is a ritual that evokes pleasant memories for many Americans. During the past week, I have come to realize that Haiti is no exception.

Baseball has developed an international following beginning with exportation during World War II by American soldiers stationed abroad. Haiti has never been known as a center for the development of future baseball stars. In fact, there are no current professional baseball players from Haiti, yet a short trip over to the Dominican Republic reveals the largest number of foreign-born baseball players currently playing in the major leagues.

That may soon change. During my most recent trip to Haiti, I had a chance to work out with the “Tabarre Tigers,” a team of 20 boys from the streets of Port-au-Prince. They were first brought together by several Americans working as part of the Haitian relief effort through “Artists for Peace and Justice.”

The Tabarre Tigers play baseball in an actual cow pasture complete with cows and manure. Bases are sandbags previously used as flood barriers. Equipment includes well-used mitts, balls and metal bats. Athletic shoes consist of shower shoes, sandals and poorly fitting sneakers. A Haitian coach is present for safety and to provide basic instruction.

I soon came to find out that what these young athletes lacked in skill and equipment they made up for in spirit. The joy of playing the game was readily apparent. When it came time to play a practice game, sides were chosen playground style with the last chosen showing his frustration.

As the game went on, there was cheering, shouting and congratulations. Solid contact and successful throws were appreciated.

My afternoon with the Tabarre Tigers was strangely reminiscent of a time in sports many of us remember. No shouts of encouragement or disappointment from parents who are often too involved. No overly coached players. There is no “every player wins” philosophy in Haitian baseball or in Haitian life. It is highly motivating to learn that there are times when someone does lose.

This experience reminded me of the importance of youth sports in its simplest and purest form.

If you have new or slightly used baseball equipment and would like to donate it to this cause, you can drop off the equipment at the WXLM 980-AM studios, 7 Gov. Winthrop Blvd. in New London.

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