Area families step up to the plate and host international baseball players
By: Jim Erickson
It’s virtually all the same in baseball no matter where the game is played – three strikes, four balls, three outs and all the rest.
Those commonalities and a shared interest in the game itself went a long way in erasing or easing language barriers and cultural differences when nearly 100 young ballplayers and adult leaders on six teams from Japan, Australia and Europe joined with seven St. Louis County teams for an international tournament at the Ballwin Athletic Association baseball complex Aug. 3-11.
And those who believe they were in one of the best positions to enjoy the more than week-long series of games, ceremonies and other events were the local families that opened their homes to house the overseas visitors.
The Ken Deutschmann family in Ballwin hosted three Australians so language wasn’t a significant challenge.
“We had to learn the different expressions and terminology unique to each country, though,” Deutschmann said. “But that’s been fun.”
For the Mike Brown family in High Ridge, hosting four Japanese players has been the culmination of a goal established many years ago.
“When I was growing up in Kirkwood, I had the opportunity to go to Toronto with a youth hockey team,” Brown said. “That was a fantastic experience for me and I’ve known that I wanted to give my kids the same kind of opportunity to meet and get to know people from another country.”
There have been some communication barriers, especially in regard to food likes and dislikes, “but we’ve been able to overcome most of that by showing them pictures of what we were talking about,” Brown said.
Petra Byers speaks German but that hasn’t helped in communicating with the three Japanese players she and her family hosted at their Wildwood home.
The John O’Brien family in Valley Park probably set the record for hosting the largest group of young ballplayers with 16 from Australia, the Netherlands and Germany.
“We don’t have a super-big house so we have them all over, including four at my mother-in-law’s home across the street,” O’Brien said. One visitor is the only girl in the international contingent, a player on the Australian team.
“She’s stayed with my daughter and they’ve had a lot of fun,” said O’Brien, who is president of the Valley Park Athletic Association. “Whenever we’ve gone anywhere, we’ve had to have a four-car convoy with my daughter, her boyfriend and my wife and I doing the driving.”
The Patrick Shipley family in St. Albans decided they needed a little help communicating with four 14-year-old Japanese players they took in at the last minute when a mix-up left the players with no place to go.
“They appeared to be afraid they would be left behind whenever we went someplace or that they wouldn’t be able to get to their games,” Shipley said. “They needed some assurances that I just wasn’t able to communicate adequately.”
So, Shipley contacted the University of Missouri-St. Louis in search of someone who to serve as a translator. He wound up speaking with Beth Eckelkamp, associate dean of students in the college of arts and sciences who has taught Japanese.
“She was a God-send,” Shipley said of Eckelkamp. “Her talking with the boys over the phone made all the difference in the world. She’s really a special person in my book.”
“He and his family are the ones who deserve all the credit,” Eckelkamp said of the Shipleys. “To step into that kind of situation at the last minute and then go above and beyond to make sure the boys knew they were welcome and would be taken care of … that’s really something.”