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.

Baseball is back — and so are oblique muscle injuries

Baseball season has officially begun and, unfortunately, so has the ever-present disabled list (DL).

The DL is used to signify that a player is unable to compete and it allows the team to promote a substitute player from a lower level to the major league team. It also serves as a barometer for the success of strength and conditioning specialists as well as athletic trainers.

Among the injuries seen early in the season are those that affect the abdominal muscles. These are typically strains or tears in the muscle fibers. They can be very painful and debilitating for an athlete who competes in a throwing sport.

The oblique muscles consist of four paired muscles, the internal and external obliques. They are large, flat muscles that extend from the rib cage to the pelvis in a perpendicular orientation to each other. The principal role of these muscles is to provide stability to the trunk while protecting the abdominal contents.

Injury results from sudden tension on muscle fibers that are not supple. Oblique muscle injuries are most common in tennis, baseball and other sports where throwing and twisting are principal movements. Pitchers are especially impaired by these injuries.

Treatment of oblique muscle injuries consists of rest, alternating hot and cold applications and anti-inflammatory medications. The challenge is resting any muscle that provides support to the trunk. Whenever an athlete stands or turns, these muscles fire. Taping these muscles in an effort to restrict motion can result in diminished breathing.

The best way to prevent oblique muscle strain is through adequate stretching before any activity along with a core strengthening regimen.

Taking time to warm up before tossing a ball or swinging a racquet can keep all athletes off the disabled list.