America’s game hits Vietnam metro

November 22, 2007

America’s game hits Vietnam metro

Ready position: Coach Jeff Brueggemann shows locals kids how to “get low” for a ground ball  

Major League Baseball and Operation Smile discover they are doing the same thing at Ho Chi Minh City’s first baseball camp.

Having only seen base-ball on TV, Vietnamese youngsters took to the game with flair Saturday as Major League Baseball introduced the game at a camp in Ho Chi Minh City.

The camp, held by the world’s premier baseball organization – home of the Yankees and Barry Bonds – and Operation Smile Vietnam, aimed to teach locals how to play the game while at the same time creating awareness of the charity organization’s cause.

“We are here for the same reason that Operation Smile is here, and that is to put a smile on your face,” said Rick Dell, Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Director of Baseball Development in Asia, during his opening address.

Operation Smile, an organization that provides surgeries for children with cleft palates, helped to organize the event and had a booth open at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s South Saigon campus, where the camp opened yesterday.

This is the first time MLB has held a camp in HCMC, though its coaches have hosted similar seminars in Hanoi and Dong Ha in Quang Tri Province near the former demilitarized zone.

“I have never played baseball before, though I have seen it on sports channels, Japanese comic books and American movies,” said 8th grader Ngo Le Vy, one of the 15 students from Vietnamese American Private School (VAPS) who took part in yesterday morning’s camp.

Dell, who ran the camp with two other American coaches, said the major goal was simply to have some fun, but he did not rule out promoting baseball in the country on a more long term basis.

MLB currently supports baseball teams throughout the Asian region, including programs in China and Cambodia.

Dell said he wasn’t sure if baseball would catch on in HCMC.

“My plan is now to run four very good training sessions in Vietnam and when I wake up on Monday morning, we’ll see where we are and go from there.”

Judging by the kids’ enthusiasm and energy yesterday, Dell and MLB might have to return.

“I’m not very good at throwing and catching the ball yet, but this is fun,” said Trinh Ngoc Anh, another 8th grader from VAPS.

“I may start playing baseball after the camp.”

VAPS CEO To Thu Thuy said “If the kids here today are interested, we’ll certainly give them opportunities to play baseball.”

US Consul General Ken Fairfax, who threw out the traditional first ball at the camp, said sports diplomacy has the ability to bring countries together.

“Playing sports together is a good way to become friends and this is some-thing I think will help Vietnamese and Americans to become friends.”

Thirteen-year-old Le Vy said she wanted to study in the US someday, so the more she knew of American culture, the better.

“This also gives us a chance to practice our English skills,” said Vy’s friend, Ngoc Anh.

Also on hand was Hong Bang University’s President Nguyen Manh Hung.

Hung said his school planned to incorporate baseball to further develop its sports program.

He said that he felt Vietnamese schools didn’t pay enough attention to sports but that “as they interacted with schools across the world, more sports programs will surely emerge.”

The camp will conclude today with a morning session (10:00-1:00 p.m.) for kids 12 and under and an afternoon session (1:30-4:30 p.m.) for anyone 13 and over. All camps are co-ed.

Reported by Thuy Linh

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