February 9, 2005


Baseball Catches On in Russia: Players in Moscow must deal with obstacles, but major league scouts are watching and waiting. (Kim Murphy, February 9, 2005, LA Times)

Dmitry Kiselyev remembers when he was dragged to his first byeisbol game here as a child. A friend of his father had been commissioned by the Soviet government in the late 1980s to put together a team to compete in the Olympics.

Kiselyev and his friends were steeped in boxing, good at soccer, whizzes with hockey sticks. But baseball struck him as boring. While the young Russian athletes struggled to catch tennis balls in their cheap mitts, he dozed on the bench. His father's friend woke him up, put a helmet on his head and a bat in his hand.

"He threw the pitch, I hit the ball, and I understood that I love this game," said Kiselyev, now 33 and president of what has become a full-fledged professional baseball league, the Russian Baseball Federation.

That America's summer pastime has found a home in snowy Russia was apparent last week, when two scouts from the Pittsburgh Pirates spent several days in a chilly gymnasium in north Moscow, surveying the home-grown talent and teaching kids reared on ice hockey how to throw curveballs and hit a solid line drive.

"They're raw," admitted Adam Souilliard, coach of a Pirate scout team from north central Florida. "They're raw, talented kids who work their butts off for their coaches, and do exactly what their coaches say. But if this continues to grow, it could be fertile ground." [...]

Kornev puts his boys through their paces, barking commands and threatening various anatomical horrors to youngsters who don't hold their mitts properly or make smooth, quick throws to first.

They strain to hear words of advice from Souilliard and lead scout Des Hamilton, as if listening harder would make their English more comprehensible.

"Your feet dictate the hand. If your feet are good, your hands'll be good. Stop, pull back, wind it up," Hamilton says.

"This guy is 10 times as big as you, and look at him, how quickly he does that!" exclaims one boy as Souilliard prances across the floor in a high-step. "But do you understand what he's saying?"

"Not a word," a teammate replies. "I understood 'ball.' What did he say?"

"You goat, he said, 'Run faster.' "

"He said, 'You goat?' "

"He didn't say, 'You goat.' I said, 'You goat.' "

Catching on? Didn't the Russians invent it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 9, 2005 9:44 AM

Well, they did invent the salary cap...

Posted by: Joihn at February 9, 2005 10:40 AM