July 01, 2015

Wild Pitch

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.

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