Posted by: viewfromtheriva | May 28, 2009

Field of Dreams in Split


Growing up in New York City in the 50’s you were either a Yankee, Giant or Dodger fan.  I was a Bums fan.  Glued to the radio, it was like being there.  Yuo could hear the pop of Don Newcombe’s fastball  when Campy caught it.My heroes were Carl Erskine, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider.  After actually going to my first game at Ebbets Field when I was 11, my dream in life was to pitch for the Dodgers.  Still is….but now, I play, or rather coach, for the Split, Croatia baseball team.  Split has always been a sports crazy town, but who knew they have been playing hardball here since1915 when some US Navy sailors played a pick up game here with the locals?  Our current field of dreams is the old Hajduk stadium field that the Nada rugby team calls home.  So there’s no mound and the infield is so rough you not only need a cup to protect your privates, but a mouthguard because the ball comes off the hardpan with eyes for your jaw.  Most of the players on the team are 20-30, couple older.  I stumbled into the coaching job as a volunteer after moving here in the fall.  Filip Bereca, one of the star players, had helped me set up my internet and was thrilled to hear I loved the game and being from the US of course considered me an expert–so sure I would help out.  I had no idea these guys were so rabid.  Filip and other players actually stay up all night to catch games from the US on TV.  They even can quote stats and gab about individual teams in the US, just like baseball crazy Americans. Okay, so they love the game, but can they play?  Hey, we’re 11-3 in first place!  We practice three times a week and the sponsor, Split Ship Management even forks over enough to pay for a van and travel when the team plays inter-league rivals in Budapest, Belgrade and other cities.  Over the past few years the team has won its fair share of championships and some of the players are headed for the Croatian national team.  The only oddity is that some of the teams bring in ringers–former professionals who played in Japan or even the US, now past their prime, but still way ahead of the kids.  Our ringer this year, and head coach, was in the Toronto Blue Jays system and then went to Japan and later Venezuela to play professionally.  He’s a big dude, great pitcher, fearsome hitter and funny.  His only vice is chewing tobacco and to my dismay is teaching the younger players how to chew without strangling themselves.  I pitch a little BP and limp home to ice my arm.  But if we get into the playoffs I was promised a chance to pitch in a real game.  So I’ve been practicing hard.  Still have a decent curve but absolutely no gas.  But I’m out there on the field of dreams and if I close my eyes, I can still hear the pop in Campy’s glove….except this time it’s Ernesto, our Venezuelan ringer throwing past the boys from Belgrade who we sent home 20-1 losers last Sunday.  Go Split!  http://www.sightseeingcroatia.com

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