The team with some of the Indiana cheering section

The Greatest Softball Game Ever Played on La Gonave was in fact the only softball game ever played on La Gonave and it was played last Thursday at 4:00 in the afternoon on the Wesleyan Mission compound. The young members of my high school English class had their final exam on the field. The umpire was Dr. Robert Vermaire and he was assisted by guesthouse manager Met Johny. The final score was Team Taz-Well –10 to Team Angelica–8. Three innings of softball bliss on a sunny afternoon. Every final exam should be so easy to grade.

In April, right around the opening day of baseball in the U.S., Taz-Well wore a NY Yankees cap to class. I asked him if he knew what the NY stood for on his hat. The whole class said New York. Yes, but what about New York did this specific NY represent? No one knew. I explained it was the logo for the NY Yankees baseball team and that it was baseball season in the states. I told them that lots of kids their age play baseball and softball at this time of the year. Some had heard of baseball but no one they knew had ever played it. My mission was clear.

Angelica Angelica at practice

We began our unit on baseball the first day after Easter break. The most important lesson that day was that everyone on a team needs a cap. Thanks to my nephew Tony, I had a big supply of Yankee caps for them and each student picked his or her favorite to wear each day of class. Each one carefully chose color and size and we were off to a happy start. Next they learned the fundamentals of the game: throwing, catching, pitching, batting and how to score a run. Our vocabulary unit was based on all the lexicon of the game: three strikes you’re out (their favorite phrase), fair, foul, home run, on base and go home. The last is my favorite because, and this is true, the first time I yelled that at practice, a student took me at my word. Betchiama was on third base during a lesson in which we practiced scoring runs. Bases were loaded and the next batter singled to right field. Betchiama stood on base unsure of where to run and I yelled “go home, go home.” The compound gate was open and off she went down the road. I had to send her brother out after her and thus the class learned the expression “go home.”

It was not long before I was having excellent attendance in class and attracting many spectators at each practice. Some of the biggest challenges were: not running with the bat to any base once contact with the ball was made, realizing that someone needs to chase after the ball once it rolls out of the infield and not running ahead of the runner in front of you! But, ti pa ti pa, we made progress. In one class we learned the words to Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Another class had them memorize the terms first base, second base, third base, home plate. In others we practiced batting, fielding and catching fly balls.

Dr Bob giving pointers to Leon  DrBobPractice

Friends in South Carolina donated a couple of softballs. We received gloves and bats from Oregon and Canada. And a team from Colorado Springs made three bases and a home plate from scrap wood. They rounded the edges and sanded them nice and smooth since the students often played barefoot. June 18th was set as the big game day. Notices went home to all the families. Dr. Bob and Met Johny agreed to ump.

Taz-Wel in his pitching stance Pitching

Visitors from Indiana made cheering signs for each player and we were set for your day of days.

The game was a three inning whirlwind of excitement, but I’ll do my best here to recount the play by play. Taz-Well’s team took the field first with Taz pitching. Boaz, Angelica and Leon all reached on singles, but with bases loaded the next batter hit right to third baseman Dilanka who threw to first for the out. ( We never really practiced the play to home.) One run scored. Taz struck out the next batter. Two more runs scored before the final strike out, and Team Taz came up to bat down 3-0.

Betchiama and Dilanka each grounded out to first. Jaron reached on a dropped ball and finally scored on a series of errors and over throws. 3-1 at the end of the first.

Taz-Well held Angelica’s team to one run in the top of the second and it was time for the 1 1/2 inning stretch. Everyone–players, visitors, parents, hospital staff, spectators–stood for a rousing version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game with my students giving extra punch to the line “three strikes you’re out.”

In the bottom of the second first batter Taz hit for a home run which energized the whole team. Despite a double play when Espirantha flied out to first which caught Jaron off base, they managed to score six more runs. 4-7 at the end of the second.

Bodely came in as relief pitcher for the top of the third. Angelica, normally the strongest hitter on her team, struck out trying to swing for the fences. However, a grand slam by Jean left Taz-Well’s team down a run for the bottom of the third. With Jean as relief pitcher for Boaz, it didn’t look good for Team Taz. But Dilanka, Jaron and Taz-Well all hit for singles and the bases were loaded for Bodely. Three runs scored on his long line drive. As no one had any desire to end the game, we played until the third and final out when Betchiama struck out swinging and the final score was 8-10. Team cheers and high fives were followed by two gallons of gatorade, home made cracker jacks (recipe below) , five dozen chocolate chip cookies, lots of pictures and hugs. “Really Teacher,” they asked, “this is really our final class? Net, net?” Yes. Here are your certificates. Now go before I’m sad.

BoasOnDeck Boaz “on deck”

We plan a lot of grand events in life, but it’s the unexpected joys that are most remembered. When people ask what was the highlight of teaching English in Haiti I believe I’ll say that it was the day we played the greatest softball game on La Gonave.

Cracker Jack Recipe:
Cracker Jacks-Pop 1/3 cup plain popcorn. In a small saucepan combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey, 6 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer about 5 minutes (to 250 degrees). Take off the heat and whisk in 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. In a large bowl gently combine the pop corn and caramel mixture. Add a cup of roasted peanuts and continue to coat all. Place on a couple of baking sheets and bake at 250 for 20-30 minutes or until evenly browned. Cool completely. It will hardened as it cools. Break up into cracker jacks!