Monday, March 06, 2006

South Africa: It's In The Wind Today

South Africa is in the air the past few day. "Tsotsi" won the Best Foriegn Film Oscar; Charlize Theron (South African-born) was nominated for Best Actress. Yesterday, at the Giants-Team USA event, the coach and some players from the South African team in the World Baseball Classic sat near us as they soaked in the moment. The afternoon before, however, they were the center of attention as they played the Oakland A's.
The South African team was enthusiastic and excited to be at the ballpark. Every player was standing in the dugout during the entire game, despite the score 14-1. They played their hearts out. Their few fans and family members cheered them on, waving little flags and wrapping themselves in flags. The two coaches talked during the game, perhaps discussing Oakland's hope to not embarrass their earnest rivals.
At the end, Coach Rene Lachman led his team to do a full team handshake with the South African team; it spanned the entire diamond and demonstrated tremendous class and diplomacy. There was also a hug for South Africa's pitching coach, Lee Smith. The Giants were not so classy with Team USA, so that Team USA did their own handshake line. That was weird, but it was Oakland's Coach that led his team over.
After the game, we waited at the bus, with family and friends. They were delighted to share their South Africa baseball stories with us as some people gathered autographs and photos. The mom of one player said he was so happy to be at the Classic, elated by all the free Coke he could have and a locker full of new baseball gear. He was thrilled to be part of this, no matter how long they last in the tournament. I cannot help but think that the contrasts of life in South Africa, with the racial and economic issues portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, make such dramatic extremes for the players and their families (or for that matter, the two young stars of the film that attended the Academy Awards ceremony).
The World Baseball Classic will be a few weeks that these players remember forever; their enthusiasm and genuine delight will be something I remember as well. I look forward to the Team USA game vs. South Africa on Friday and hope that their moments of playing with A-Rod, Jeter, Damon, Utley and Street will be memorable.