Airmen engage in baseball diplomacy in Chile
April 16, 2008
SANTIAGO, Chile — When they agreed to play the Chilean Little League champions, the airmen joked they hoped the youngsters wouldn’t embarrass them.
When they took the field and discovered the Santiago Metros are a 19-and-under squad filled with semi-pros, they stopped joking.
“I think we got sold a bill of goods,” grumbled Capt. Seth Ewalt, of the 452nd Airlift Wing of March Air Reserve Base in California.
The friendly matchup between Chilean players and airmen in town for the Chilean International Air and Space Fair last week featured more humble pie than highlights, but airmen said the chance to trade fastballs with the local teens was a boost for both teams.
“It’s all just fun stuff,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Vath, a member of the 563rd Maintenance Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, Ariz. “I did the same thing in Uzbekistan a few years ago, and you just get a chance to meet people and relax a little. And we’re sharing a bit of the American way.”
The game was the first between U.S. military and locals in South America, but it’s not the last.
SOUTHCOM officials have a baseball diplomacy tour scheduled for later this year, pitting all-stars from across Central and South America against pilots, medical crews, and other military members in an effort to show the human side of the U.S. armed forces.
The airmen shared a little bit of MLB strategy too, finagling a trade for one of the Metros' pitchers before the game for a player to be named later.
That turned out to be Senior Airman Vincent Lopez, who took over as pitcher for the Chileans after they no-hit the airmen through three innings. He promptly gave up three runs to his fellow troops before being traded back.
The Chileans still won the game, 8-5.
All through the game, airmen handed out T-shirts and backpacks donated by the Colorado Rockies to local children, and afterward presented their opponents with Air Force handouts and a pat on the back.
For their part, the Chilean champions said they enjoyed the camaraderie almost as much as the leisurely batting practice the game became.
Although coach Norway Nunez did have some advice for the other team.
“As long as they stick to flying, I think they’ll be OK,” he said, laughing.
Stars and Stripes reporter Rick Vasquez contributed to this report.