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A Grand Slam to Remember – Chinandega, Nicaragua

May 12th, 2010

I want to share with you one wonderful experience I had in my childhood. I’m 34 years old now, but when I was I child, I grew up in a city named Chichigalp. It is a small town about 12 kilometers from Chinandega where I now live with my wife and baby daughter. In this place of my youth there was a huge sugar mill company with a lot of sugar plantations in the region. At that time it was the biggest sugar company in all of Central America. My dad worked in town as a math teacher for 26 years. Now he is retired and very sick, he is diabetic. More about his life in a future blog entry. Back to my story…

When I was living there, I visited the baseball fields with my grandfather (my mother’s dad) we had a lot of fun together, because we loved baseball. I remember that one day my granddad told me, “Hey Ernesto, you should play baseball but in a formal way.” I had spoken with a guy that had a baseball team in a league, and he needed some more players. I asked him to give me the opportunity to play and he agreed. My granddad started practicing with me every day after school, he told me “You are not the best baseball player I ever have seen so you better practice hard,” and I did.

Instead of being the best one on the team, I was the worst player. Every time I went to bat, I didn’t hit the ball. I struck out every time. I was the leader of strike outs in the league. I was very sad because I disappointed my granddad. But that old man always supported me and he was never angry with me. I remember one day I told him, “Sorry grandpa, I am never going to be a good baseball player.” He started laughing. He said, “Maybe you aren’t the best player, but a least you are the leader of strike outs, that’s something. You are in the statistics. They are negative, but you are into it, the people know who you are and the most important thing is that you never are on the bench, you play every game.” He asked me, “Do you know why you play every game?” Of course I said no. He said, “Well I will tell you why you are in every game. The manager trusts you, he believes in you. He thinks that someday you will hit a grand slam, and you know what, I think so too. I think this because every time you get your turn to bat, I think that you are going to hit the ball very far because you have a beautiful swing. You look like Babe Ruth and look around you, the people enjoy every time you go to bat. Do you know why? Because they like you even if you are going to strike out again, they don’t care about that, they like your swing, they enjoy watching you playing baseball.” When he told me that, I felt much better and my confidence grew. Those words raised my spirit and I didn’t retire from the team. I practiced more and more, but I didn’t have any good results, I was the same bad player.

One day I went to play again and of course my grandpa was watching the game as always. It was my turn to bat, the bases were loaded, I was walking to the home plate very slowly with my head down, I thought I was going to strike out again, but my grandpa was shouting, “You can do it Ernesto, remember that you can do it. Focus on the ball!”
Then I swung at the ball, just like always, but this time, an amazing thing happened, I hit the ball. It felt good to hear the sound and feel the ball hit the bat. The ball sailed over the fence for a Grand Slam. I couldn’t believe it. The ball was leaving the park! I started to run around the bases as Jose Canseco would and my teammates were waiting for me at home plate. My grandpa jumped from his seat very excited and came to me and gave me a big hug. When the game finished, we had won 8 to 2. My granddad invited me to eat ice cream with him as a reward. That was a great day and an amazing experience.

My grandfather died few years later, but I always remember that day. Now this experience is helping me a lot, because you never have to lose hope, you only have to wait for your opportunity, but when it comes, you better be ready. Right now I’m still waiting for my opportunity in this poor country, but at the same time, I’m looking for it, and I’ll tell you this; when it comes, I won’t waste my opportunity. I’m practicing, just how I did with the baseball!

Ernesto Somarriba

5 Comments on “A Grand Slam to Remember – Chinandega, Nicaragua”

  1. Gustavo says:

    Ernesto,

    This was a beautiful and universal story. Thank you for sharing it!

    Gustavo

  2. Michael says:

    Thanksgiving loves its baseball, doesn’t it? From Paul’s legendary analogy in the Coffee Cupper’s manifesto many years ago to this great story from Ernesto about the redeeming value of practice, persistence and patience — both tied firmly to baseball-crazy Nicaragua.

    I had the good fortune to live in Nicaragua as a volunteer many years ago, and fondly remember seeing kids playing baseball wherever there was enough flat space to permit it — and even in some places where there wasn’t.

    After a 12-year absence, I returned earlier this month to the town in the mountains where I was a volunteer, and was surprised by what I saw during an early-morning walk on my first day in town. At 5.30 am, on the court where I played pick-up basketball, a dozen girls were playing SOCCER. A half-hour later, when I made my way past the baseball stadium (whose outfield doubles as pasture), there were more than a dozen boys playing…SOCCER!

    I am not sure whether these games were inspired by the World Cup, or whether Nicaragua is catching football fever from its neighbors. Either way, one thing hasn’t changed — the warmth of the Nicaraguan people and the likelihood that when you visit, you can get into whatever kind of game is being played!

    Thanks to Ernesto for the lovely story, and to Thanksgiving for publishing it.

  3. Paul Katzeff says:

    Michael,
    “legendary analogy in the Coffee Cupper’s manifesto”. I did not realize the analogy would be remembered ten years later. You are referring to “like a hard ballplayer with poor eyesight trying to hit a 90 mph fastball without his glasses”. I was relating that to coffee growers without the tools of their trade that are found in cupping labs.
    Paul

    • Michael says:

      Paul:

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. And yes, that is the quotation I was referring to…How could anyone forget that line? So vivid!

      Of course, the contexts of your story and Ernesto’s are very different, but I thought I have sensed an underlying interest in baseball at Thanksgiving and perhaps a reliance on the sport — particularly in the Nicaraguan context — to convey ideas (like the importance of having a cupping lab) and connect with other valued members.

      Perhaps I was reading too much into it. Either way, seems like good cultural anthropology to me.

    • Michael says:

      Paul:

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. And yes, that is the quotation I was referring to…How could anyone forget that line? So vivid!

      Of course, the contexts of your story and Ernesto’s are very different, but I thought I have sensed an underlying interest in baseball at Thanksgiving and perhaps a reliance on the sport — particularly in the Nicaraguan context — to convey ideas (like the importance of having a cupping lab) and connect with other valued partners in the coffee chain.

      Perhaps I was reading too much into it. Either way, seems like good cultural anthropology to me.

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