I began playing baseball when I was three years old. The oldest and fondest memories I have in my twenty-five years,whether it be out in my front yard playing catch with my father,or while visiting my grandfather in Ohio before he died when I was seven,all the way through making the varsity team my sophomore year of high school after being injured the year before,include America's "National Pastime." All but two years of my life (those two were spent playing rugby at Emory University,before I joined the Club Baseball team) have been devoted to the sport. It would be safe to say that it is one of my life's passions.
So when my wife,two dogs,and I packed our SUV to kick off our new lives together in the Riviera Maya,I made sure my baseball bag made the trip with us. I had high hopes of starting a baseball team at Colegio Puerto Aventuras,the international,bilingual school where I taught for two years,and joining a men's team myself. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was a little disappointed not to find very much interest in baseball among the students at school. It seems that soccer,or futbol as it is called by Spanish-speakers,is the heavily favored sport,not only among the Mexicans,but the Italians,Spanish,and English as well. I was only able to attract a handful of kids in my attempt to build a program,hardly enough to field a team. On the other side of things,I had yet to find any adults teams to play with. Just about every town in the Yucatan Peninsula,big or little,has a baseball diamond. However,every time I found one they were either deserted or being used for a game of futbol.
I realize that the previous paragraph makes it seem like my first six months living in Mexico were spent in complete depression. They weren't. During this time,I lost myself in the beauty of the Riviera Maya and its white-sand beaches that I still get to call home. I had learned how to scuba dive,discovering a completely new and enchanting world that was much more welcoming than "Shark Week" had previously made it out to be. I had also lost 10 of the 40 pounds that I would eventually lose living a healthy post-college lifestyle. Complaining about not being able to play baseball at this point could be compared to the spoiled teenager being upset that his parents bought them a BMW instead of a Mercedes. However,in my own defense,I did feel a void in my life that had been filled for so long by being a part of a baseball team. Fortunately for me,I found out that I could have both.
For the first half-year after our move to Mexico,my wife's and my usual Sunday morning routine consisted of going to the 8:30 church service located in Paamul,then spending the rest of the day enjoying one of the many spectacular beaches Riviera Maya real estate has to offer with friends. This one particular Sunday in February was no exception. After a great day bodysurfing at Xcacel Beach,we stopped to get a delicious handmade pizza at Pizza Leo's in the town of Chemuyil. Driving through the town we came upon the baseball field,on which an actual baseball game was being played,with uniforms,umpires,the whole shebang. Not to my wife's surprise,I immediately pulled the car over,got out,walked straight out onto the field and asked,in my best Spanish,how I could play. One of the managers,who luckily did speak English,took down my number and told me that he would call me when the next season began due to the fact that they were in the middle of the playoffs that day. I thanked him profusely,walked back off of the field,and got back in the car,giddy as a boy on Christmas morning.
That call did finally come four weeks later,and I have since played in past three seasons. My team,Los Taxistas (sponsored by the Taxi Union),are currently one win away from the finals,and possible back-to-back championship seasons. While I had been at the beach every Sunday,many local families had been spending their only day off of the week at the ballpark. Now,after church,I do the same.
There is so much that I have gained from playing baseball in the Riviera Maya. My Spanish-speaking abilities have grown exponentially since my first season. Being a pitcher,it is amazing how much more you can accomplish if you can communicate verbally with your catcher (before that I just smiled and nodded during conferences on the mound). But at the same time,it is amazing how much you can accomplish even if you cannot speak the same language. The game of baseball,its rules,signals,are all fairly universal. You still have to catch,throw,hit,and run regardless of what language you speak. I once went out to the field to practice during the week. Normally there are a few other guys,but this time there was only one,and he didn't speak a word of English. We spent the next thirty minutes playing catch together,in silence,just like I had done with my father,but this time with a complete stranger. It reminded me why I love the game of baseball so much.
Aside from renewing my love for baseball,my favorite part about playing in the Riviera Maya has been the relationships that I have built with my teammates and the local community. I have met people not only from all over Mexico,but also other Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. There is a certain demeanor about these people that makes them so warm and welcoming. With all of the bad press that Mexico has been getting recently,it is humbling to see how they accept me,the only American in the entire league,as one of their own. I think that is why I have fallen in love with living in Mexico,because hospitality truly is their "National Pastime."