Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I am now a sports columnist...

I just took a gig as sports columnist for That’s Beijing. It’s an English language monthly that seems to be quite well read by the expat community. It’s basically like Time Out for you New Yorkers except it’s monthly, not weekly. You can see it a bit at www.thatsbj.com. I met the restaurant editor at a party last Saturday and we chatted and she told me they needed a new sports columnist, I emailed her on Monday. She passed it on to the editor. We met today and I got the gig. It doesn’t pay much but I think it will be good for me to establish a profile here and get out there and start doing some reporting, which will give me ideas to use elsewhere as well. I am looking forward to hitting some badminton and table tennis tournaments. No, really.

On other sports fronts, I played my first softball game here last Sunday and will be coaching my first youth soccer this Saturday. I am head coach of eli’s team and assistant coach for Jacob’s. Several friends from the compound encouraged me to coach, saying Chinese dads just expect the Westerners to do it and Korean dads never show up at the games at all. It should be interesting and hopefully fun. I’d be doing the same thing at home, anyhow.

Softball was quite funny. I played for the mighty Papa John’s pepperonis (I made up the nickname, but we really were playing for the pizza chain Papa Johns, which has four joints in Beijing). We played the US embassy and they pretty much killed us, all the while heckling us to the tune of “You guys ate too many pizzas.” It’s never a good sign in softball when you have a lot of non-Americans on the team, but here we were with at least one of the following: Aussie, Brit, Dane and Indian. Pregame the Aussie was explaining things like this to the Brit: “You can’t run when on base until the ball hits the ground” and “it has to be hit to the inside of first and third base in order to count.” I must say he was remarkably good for literally never having played. He did get thrown out at third base, after sliding in beautifully and beating the throw, only to get up and walk away. He had no clue he had to stay on the bag and the 250-pound Marine CO with the barbed wire tats around his massive biceps tagged him out, with a laugh. All descriptions here are 100 percent accurate, too.

Our second basemen was Fiona, a third grade teacher at one of the International Schools (hello, Amy Cohen) who said she hadn’t played in four years because she just moved from Sri Lanka, where her glove rotted away. She was quite good, too.

I pitched the first five innings and it was very difficult. High arc. Had to go up at least six feet. Balls and strikes were determined by whether or not the pitch landed on a mat, about the size of a front seat floor mat for a car, extending back from mid plate. I guess it’s easy to be an ump in china. So the strike zone was the same for the 5-4 female marine guard, with the Corps insignia tattoo staring at me from her left bicep and the 6-6 skinny guy who followed her. Hard to get used to. I did okay, though I badly missed with several attempted ephus pitches, scratching the clouds. I only had three walks, two to a fast-talking black dude with dreads who totally broke my concentration. I don’t know what he did at the embassy, but def. not a Marine. They had about four of these huge, muscle-bound guys pounding the ball pretty far. Everyone else was normal-sized diplomat and staff types. After five sweaty, exhausting innings I asked if anyone else wanted to pitch and Krishna, the chain smoking, rather portly Indian guy who works for Marriott Courtyard said he’d like to try. He shut them down and I’d say I lost my gig. I think I can play left field better than ol’ K anyhow.

Our defense was porous at the beginning, but we came together. I ‘d say we outscored them about 3-1 the last three innings, which brought the score to a relatively respectable 14-4 or so. That felt good after being down about 12-0.

This is a three-week tournament, capping off what I am told is a pretty active regular season which runs from April –July. I’m all over that, next year – and should be able to get at least one column out of it.

The field was hilarious. It was at Cathay View, a chinese style compound still under construction very close to Riviera. I rode my bike there in 10 minutes. The field looks spectacular. Well-manicured outfield, glistening brown infield. Waiting to play I remarked on that and one of the guys playing before us said, ”Wait till you get out there. It is like playing softball in a sandbox.” And indeed he was right.

My first at bat, I hit a pretty hard shot to third and took off. First step felt good, second one, I stumbled and barely avoided falling on my face. I was thrown out. I ended up with a couple of hits, but nothing too spectacular. The infield had 2-3 inches of loose, very soft dirt on top. I think they looked at a picture of a baseball field, but never actually stood on one. The other thing that was interesting was between innings, people ran in to sweep up our dugout trash, getting rid of water bottles, beer cans, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, etc. You start getting used to stuff like that pretty quickly here, which is a little scary. But that’s a whole other post for another day, when I can tell you about our ayi Yoo Ying ironing Jacob and Eli’s underwear and scrubbing J’s soccer cleats.

That’s all for now. I am at B’s office and she is having her chinese lesson. I need to make my way back to the burbs. Same as at home.