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Page 28 ( 8 pages)
practice was ending, and several youngsters, baseball gloves in tow, trotted across the dirt infield outside Public School 975 toward the third-base dugout. Yet no sooner had their coach, Pavel Gladikov, called it a day on the diamond than he was verbally broadsided by a man leaning against the backstop. The spectator had been silently watching the practice, biding his time until he could get the coach’s full attention. Their rapid-fire exchange quickly morphed from conversation to tirade in plain view of the players, who soaked in every syllable of the diversion.
In the major and minor leagues, the spectacle of grown men jawing nose to nose near home plate is as old as the game, but it’s doubtful even baseball lifers ever heard a fusillade like this. When it was over, a bewildered bystander bounded up to Gladikov, the man in charge of the Svyatogor 975 baseball club, to ask what had happened. Gladikov explained that the onlooker was berating him for having the gall to teach Russian children this American sport. The coach beamed, his wry rehash containing no trace of the pugnacity he’d shown in dealing with the hothead.
Such doggedness is vital for the small collective of baseball devotees in a country where most people wouldn’t mind a bit if the game vanished like a Siberian summer.
Years later, though, Gladikov said he had no recollection whatsoever of that day. “I have arguments like that with all sorts of people about twice a week,” he said. “I always tell everyone that baseball is derived from lapta, which was first mentioned 700 years ago. Most [Russians] are thoroughly supportive of kids taking up a worthwhile sport, but nobody ever screams about soccer being invented by the British, skiing by the Swedes, or gymnastics by the Germans.”
Baseball historians would contest Gladikov’s claim about lapta, but that’s beside the point. He goes with whatever works. And he has to sell this unappreciated game – in a calmer tone – to parents and bureaucrats skeptical for reasons other than antipathy toward the United States: equipment is expensive and difficult to obtain; the rules are complicated; the game bores them; Russian prospects for success are poor. The Russian government’s interest waned further still when baseball was dropped as an Olympic sport ahead of the 2012 London games. Yet Gladikov and his cadre soldier on.
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