Issue 6, 2011. December-January

   

NY BASEBALL FANS DONATE GEAR AND UNIFORMS TO GEORGIAN PLAYERS

New batting tees, uniforms and gloves will help struggling Georgian baseball enthusiasts.

Photos by Jackie Koney


Georgian baseball players have new gloves, uniforms and safety gear thanks to the generosity of New York baseball fans.

After reading about the plight of Georgian baseball teams on EurasiaNet.org (an adapted version of the article was reprinted by Investor.ge in June), Lincoln Mitchell decided to organize a gear drive.

Mitchell, an associate at Columbia University's Harriman Institute and former chief of party for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Georgia from 2002-2004, has strong ties to Georgia - and baseball.

"I am a big baseball fan and am intrigued by the spread of baseball internationally. I am often struck by how little many people know about how many countries play baseball. Countries that we don't think of as baseball countries at all like Australia, the Netherlands or Italy have increasingly serious baseball programs," he said in an interview via Skype.

"I approached Gia [Kemoklidze, one of the founders of Little League in Georgia -ed] in May when I was in Tbilisi about ways that I could help baseball in Georgia. An equipment drive seemed like a natural thing to do. I coach Little League in New York and have two sons who are big youth baseball programs so I know how much fun this can be for kids."

The Baseball Center in Manhattan, where his two sons play for the traveling team, made a call for gear and, several weeks later, seven boxes of gear - including 20 new baseball gloves, uniforms and a catcher's mask - arrived in Tbilisi.

For Georgian players, the matching uniforms and gear means they can look like proper teams, noted Jackie Koney, president of the Tbilisi Little League and co- founder board member of Friends of Georgian Baseball and Softball.

She said the donations will help "keep the game alive" in Georgia.


"From a practical standpoint, it's tough to play proper ball without gloves and balls and it's dangerous to play without safety equipment like batting helmets and catcher's gear. These are items you just can't get in Tbilisi and it's out of reach, price wise, to order and send from abroad," she said in an email interview.

"From an emotional standpoint, knowing that there's a connection to people in NYC who love the game and want to share it with us here is just really exciting ... There was an immediate and palpable sense of pride when the kids gathered for photos -- they looked and felt like a "real" team."

Mitchell noted that there are tentative plans for more gear drives, and, perhaps, clinics or player exchanges in the future. He said building relationships around baseball is another way to teach Georgians about American culture.

"I have spent a number of years working in and studying Georgia. The Georgian people and leadership often mention how they love America, but too frequently this is just limited to American powers and ideals... For me, loving America means loving, not just democracy and equality but also things and people like Bob Dylan, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Jazz music, and, frankly, as much as anything else, baseball," he said.

"The opportunity to share this with Georgian Little League and, with luck, to engender a lifelong passion for baseball in a few Georgian young people is a way for me to help introduce the young people of a country that, while not mine is very close to my heart, to another part of America."