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Published: August 20th 2007
For the past two months I have been working at a summer camp called Mercurijaus, which is in a small village about 15 kilometers northwest of Kaunas. I have been working as a ‘sporto vadovas,’ or, (sports) camp counselor, teaching baseball to a group of around 20 kids for two hours each day.
The camp is smaller than summer camps I have been to the US……it is situated in the woods on about 10 acres of land……but each week it attracts anywhere from 300-400 campers.
As many things I have experienced in Lithuania, this summer camp is just like summer camp in the US, and also nothing like it at all. As you walk through the camp you feel the same energy of children running around, many of them playing sports or doing crafts, playing games, dancing.,….but there is a more haphazard nature to the whole thing. My memory of summer camp in the US was that there was a fairly structured schedule with maybe an hour or two of free time scheduled in; at this camp it appears to me that most of the day is free time, that for example if a kid wanted to spend most
of the day in his room/cabin, or hanging out on the steps talking to friends, that would be fine. There seemed to be less activites and less supervision at this camp than at summer camps in the US.
This lack of structure and organization made the process of finding my group of baseball players each day very interesting. Usually a handful of kids would be waiting for me at the amphitheater at the ‘scheduled’ meeting time—they would help me carry my big bag of equipment and as we walked through the camp headed to the soccer field we would yell ‘who wants to play baseball!’ and slowly, one by one, kids would come out of nowhere to join us. Picture the Wizard of Oz, the scene where Dorothy lands in Oz and as she is walking down the yellow brick road the munchkins, one by one, begin to follow here. And by the time we’d reached the other side of camp anywhere from 20-30 kids had joined the pack. The resulting group would always be a mix of kids who probably woke up that day waiting in anticipation to play baseball and other kids who heard me yelling and
thought ‘eh, why not. Might as well, I’m not doing anything else.’
We would play everyday on a sandy soccer field overgrown with weeds in the center of an old abandoned summer camp about ten minutes by foot from Mercurijaus. When it was functioning, this old camp must have been pretty cool by the looks of the facilities. But now it is in total ruin. Every day we walk to the field I wonder what could have happened to make the camp shut down……? In fact whenever I pass any abandoned building I think about that. I try to picture what it was like when it was brand new and full of people…..
I am always surprised at how quickly a group of kids who have never played baseball game can learn and, by the third day or so, be making great catches, hitting line drives, and making great throws. I love it when, before I throw a pitch, the kids begin to yell out how many outs there are and where to throw the ball if it is hit to them—that tells me they are really into the game.
When you are teaching kids a game
and trying to explain the rules, it kind of works like wildfire….all it takes is one or two kids to get it and then they begin to help the other kids learn and pretty soon the whole group is into it. My experience at this camp has been extremely positive—I have been especially impressed by the way the kids have treated each other in the context of play. Rarely do I hear kids insulting other kids or putting kids down.
Nevertheless, kids still do some pretty funny things. Numerous times a kid insists it is better to swing the bat with only one hand. It is a rule that the littlest kid will always try to hit with the biggest bat his first time, and that he will always stand right on home plate facing me, with his hands backwards on the bat. Sometimes a kid will hit the ball, run to first, and just keep on running past the base and into the outfield yelling ‘where do I go now?’ as he continues running…..or after I explain that to score a run you must round all the bases and touch home, a kid will make it to home
and then immediately head for first, hoping to round the bases once more and score another run (I then have to explain that you cannot round the bases more than once per at-bat).
There is an elderly man who only speaks Russian and I think suffers from dementia or some other mental disorder who, just about every two days, will show up at the field. First he will stand and watch us for a moment, then as soon as he sees a kid hit the ball he will begin yelling and cursing (I don’t speak Russian but I know many Russian bad words) at the kids or just at the group in general. Usually someone will reply to him in Russian, then he will say something more, and then either start laughing and joking with us or just walk off. This has happened numerous times and I now know that the old man is harmful--that in fact every time he yells, mixed among his curse words he is just saying 'be careful--it is dangerous to be swinging bats with lots of kids standing around.' And even though I know that the man is simply crazy and there is nothing to
do about it (and I know that he will not hurt anybody) I still get nervous when he comes around.
One of my goals for teaching at this camp, other than to make a little money and have fun playing with kids, is to further the 'development' of baseball in Lithuania. As vague as that sounds. I am hoping that, if I am not back next year, one of the guys from the Kaunas team will continue the work at the camp. I am also hopeful that many of the kids who learned baseball at this camp will go home and sign up for baseball next season. 😊
Oh—and did I mention that my teaching at the camp is almost all in Lithuanian?
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