<b>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea</b> — Alex Gransback predicted his future when he was 10. As he watched the 2005 Little League World Series on television, a list of past years' winners showed Korea's team as a two-time champ.

At the time, he knew he was moving to Korea. He told his parents, "I want to play on a Korean little league team!" Just days after moving here in 2006, he did just that, joining the local Yongsan District little league team.

Now two years later, Alex's friends and other U.S. military little leaguers here could get a shot to play on Korea's national team. They are players on the Seoul Baseball Club, the first foreign little league team to be a member of the Korean Little League Baseball Federation.

Less than a year old, the club gives children 9-15 a chance the play competitive baseball year-round.

"Baseball is a great sport," said Sgt. 1st Class Russell Bruce, 2nd Infantry Division Support liaison officer. "I just thought it would be great to have a year-round program where we can teach kids how to truly play the game."

Bruce started building the club in October 2007 with the help of Sgt. 1st Class Dave Olson, 8th U.S. Army G-4 Transportation, and Lt. Col. Steve Gransback, currently attending senior service school at the Korean National Defense University.

Bruce's son previously played with Alex on the Yongsan District team. Bruce and Olson are SBC's coaches and Gransback is the club president.

"Since last year, we played Korean teams, and after awhile we thought we were good enough to compete," Olson said.

And after their first tournament, they were good enough to join the Korean Little League Baseball Federation, which has more than 60 member teams around Korea. The club hosted the ROK-U.S. Friendship Baseball Tournament June 1 on Yongsan Garrison, bringing together more than 140 players, parents and coaches and federation officials. "Besides advancing our great sport, we had a great exchange for the Good Neighbor Program," Gransback said.

The federation chairman, Han Young-kwan, took note of SBC's skill during the tournament. "I asked, 'Why don't you join us''" Han said. He presented the idea to the Korea Baseball Organization's board of directors and it was approved. In July, the SBC became the first foreign team in the federation.

"This is great for friendship between Korea and America, especially among the kids," Han said. "This will help give them very good memories of their time in Korea."

Players in the federation are also eligible to compete for a spot on the Korean national team, which represents the country at national and international tournaments, Han said. "Korean little league does not care about nationality," he added.

Gransback said Korean little league teams "are very good. We're hoping that we can play to that level and compete with them and give them a good game."

The cultural and discipline teachings of Korean little league will, Olson hopes, give the players a greater respect for the game.

"They learn the disciplined culture of baseball here," Olson said. "For example, before and after a game, the teams line up, take off their hats and bow to each other as a sign of respect. They also walk to where the parents of the opposing team sit and bow to them."

The team will also get a chance to play in international tournaments. Olson said they will play in a tournament in the Philippines in January, competing against top teams in Asia, such as Taiwan and Japan. "That will give them a taste of what it's like to play in a World Series-like event," he said.

SBC plays in its first Korea-wide tournament as a federation member Saturday through Aug. 18 at the Changjung Little League Baseball Stadium across from the Shilla Hotel in Seoul. SBC's first game is at 10 a.m. Saturday, and attendance is free.

What started a year ago as a small group of baseball friends with 15 players has grown into a club with two teams whose players will get a taste of international little league competition.

"Everything we do is for these kids," Bruce said. "We love the kids and we love of the game of baseball. We want the kids to leave with a greater desire to play the game and a greater passion for the game."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16