When you think of Argentina and its sporting tradition, you think football, Maradona and the hand of God. You may also wonder how the country managed to churn out such good polo teams. You are rather mystified at being told that the national sport is pato, which used to be played with an actual duck’s head.
However, something new is emerging on the Argentine horizon. The Shankees have come to town, and brought with them that famous old US sport, baseball.
“In November 2008, I figured that I wanted to put a baseball team together. And then abracadabra, the rest is history,” says Paul Perry, founder and coach of the team.
“It was easy to get started. It was serendipity. You have to move on an idea quick. I had already tried putting a football team together called the Wild Turkeys and I even bought a turkey suit. It’s harder to get footballers though, because its rougher and you can get injured.”
It seems that Paul has reignited a lot of the players’ enthusiasm for baseball. The majority played in the US, some of them picking up their gloves for the first time since their Little League days.
The team is mostly made up of Americans. The exception is an Argentine, Rodrigo Castelli, a 34-year-old managing director from Villa Urquiza. “It’s good to be accepted by the guys,” he reveals. “When I was ten I went to the US. I played baseball for seven years, but then didn’t play for a further 15.”
The truth is that Rodrigo is quite an exception to the rule. There are several established teams on the Argentine baseball circuit, but it is a long way from being professional. It is difficult to generate interest in the sport, especially amongst the fans.
One of the six fans in attendance, Martin Vilte, 36, a professional from Recoleta, gave an insight into why the stands are not packed full of supporters.
“For me it’s a good sport, but a lot of Argentines think of baseball as a very foreign sport. It’s complicated and they don’t understand the rules.”
Another important factor is where the games are played. The Shankees were scheduled to play a friendly game against Cuba in the National Baseball Stadium. It is quite out of the way, near Ezeiza airport. The team seems to think is that if there was a way to transport the fans out there, it would be more popular.
Unfortunately, they were informed on the day that the stadium was undergoing maintenance. The game was instead played on a nearby field, but Paul insists that the actual playing is what counts.
“It could have been worse. It could have rained,” he laughs. “It’s about bringing something to their lives. It’s not about balls, it’s about moments. They’ll always remember the Buenos Aires baseball experience. It’s baseball in ‘bizarro’ world.”
And bizarre it is. The Shankees claim that the Cubans drink rum in between innings. One of them would have been more appropriate in a fashion show. Despite his sunglasses, slicked back hair and very fashionable, tight blue vest, his pitching led the Cubans to a 9-5 victory. They celebrated with more rum, and pumped out some reggaeton tunes to rub salt in the wound.
Paul was not happy, and alleged that the Cubans had changed their batting order, which is considered cheating. On top of that, the catching equipment arrived late, meaning only five innings were played.
Fortunately for him, that game was just a friendly. Since then, the Shankees have participated in a pre-season tournament. They won four and lost one game, and will head into the national league in fine form. Paul and his troops will fight it out in the second division with five other teams, competing to win promotion to the top league. The season began on 28th March and will last for approximately three months.
“We train when we play,” he admits. “There are decent teams out there like Velez, La Plata and Lanús. But we don’t have the discipline to practise. It’s a miracle to have all 12 here, given that they all go out partying on Friday.”
The baseball is not just restricted to Saturday afternoons. Several of the players are coaches at local schools. Rodrigo met Paul in this way. He believes that there is a lot of potential with youth baseball.
Matteo Doskis, born in the US, but now resident in Buenos Aires, agrees. “There’s a minor league with loads of kids involved. We have a project in a villa near Parque Roca. It’s linked with the Little League in the US. They play with a lot of enthusiasm. It’s a weekend thing for them. Families get there before I do!”
The Shankees are always on the lookout for new players.
“The team is all from the US,” jokes Paul. “You need a passport to play. But we accept hybrids. If you want to play, contact us. Come and have a game and we’ll go from there.”
That the team has come together in such a short space of time is impressive. “It’s surreal,” he says. “I want to write a screenplay. It’ll make a good movie.”
Anybody interested in playing or watching baseball can visit the website www.shankeesbaseball.com or contact Paul Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org.