By Sgt. Michael CrawfordJuly 15, 2014
RIGA, Latvia (July 15, 2014) -- Paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, partnered with the Latvia national baseball team to practice America's pastime and teach fundamentals to children here, Saturday.
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Abn. Bde., based in Vicenza, Italy, are deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, an unscheduled land-forces exercise to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
In addition to training with Latvian soldiers in Adazi, paratroopers have been interacting with their Latvian hosts by participating in various community events to strengthen the decade-plus partnership between the two nations.
"It's how friendships are built," said Sgt. Ryan Tucker, a native of Katy, Texas. "We learn each other's cultures. As we get to know them better, they get to know us better."
Paratroopers with the 1st Squadron, which is based at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, and Latvian baseball players demonstrated throwing, batting and base-running techniques to children.
"There weren't many differences from teaching American kids, who are around baseball, and teaching the Latvian kids," said Tucker, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. "The fundamentals don't have to be properly translated; we just showed them, and they did it, and they did a good job."
To offer some professional assistance guidance, Jim Fuller, a Major League Baseball envoy coach touring Latvia, Belarus and Russia, helped the paratroopers and Latvian baseball players demonstrate fundamentals for the children.
"If your program is going to grow in the future, you've got to have little kids playing," said Fuller, a former MLB catcher and outfielder. "We teach people how to grip the baseball, but in the long run we hope baseball grips them. That's how the game is going to grow."
Selected coaches work with MLB during the summer months as an ambassador for the sport of baseball, creating relationships, visiting schools, implementing coach development programs and assisting sport governing bodies and elite-level programs.
"We try to make ourselves obsolete," said Fuller, who has been coaching every summer for 17 years. "It's a lot like the military; you work with a group of people and you hope they can take over and take care of themselves. We go to a place, try to help them and prepare them to develop coaches as well as players."
After the children had thrown, caught and hit baseballs, Fuller led them on a few laps around the ball field before turning his attention toward helping the Latvian baseball players scrimmage against American paratroopers.
"We played a full, nine-inning, major-league-baseball rules game with the Latvians," said Sgt. 1st Class Brett Macy, a native of Indianapolis. "It was a lot of fun. There was good camaraderie, really good sportsmanship and I think we surprised ourselves; like the 'Bad News Bears' coming together for the first time."
Having not played for at least 13 years himself, Macy, a former pitcher on his high school team, was content with a 7-5 loss to the Latvians.
"The experiences we're able to get out here with the Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and Polish are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," Macy said. "It reminds me of when I was young. I always had a ball in my hand, playing some kind of sport, and it brings back really good memories."
The Latvian national baseball team, a member of the Confederation of European Baseball, will be competing in the European Baseball Championship in two weeks. Andis Ansons, a captain for Latvia, hopes paratroopers continue to help them prepare for more games.
"We have to do it more often," said Ansons, a pitcher and infielder for Latvia. "I think we could do it every year. It could be a great tradition."