Although they were almost 5,000 miles from home, the youth baseball players from St. Petersburg, Russia, could still understand a “ball” from a “strike” and proved they could hit some of the best pitches the U.S. Little League teams had to offer.
A group of 29 Russian youth baseball players, along with their parents and coaches, are visiting and competing with Fairfax County Little League teams for the next week or so as part of a cultural exchange. It is the first time the St. Petersburg teams have visited the U.S.
The exchange is part of the Russian government’s commitment to teaching baseball in school physical education classes and building some baseball fields. There are only a handful of fields around St. Petersburg and the coaches marveled at the American facilities.
“The coaches told us they mainly use soccer fields and put down (removable) bases so they can play,” said Bob Woodruff, president of the , which was hosting the part of the Russian’s team stay. Woodruff said the Centreville/Clifton community has warmly welcomed the Russian team.
“I put out an email asking for support and got a huge, immediate response,” Woodruff said. “This is a great experience for our kids to play against a team from another country and learn something about them. It’s been a really great time.”
Denis Novokshonov, 35, president of the St. Petersburg Baseball Federation, said his players have enjoyed their visit.
“This has been a great trip,” Novokshonov said, taking a break during a series of games Tuesday afternoon at the Little League fields near Willow Springs Elementary School. “It’s been great for us to play against American kids.”
At the games on Tuesday, the Russian players had no problem understanding the umpire calls for balls and strikes, which are universally understood in both languages. And, the more talented Russian players were able to get hits off of the better fastballs thrown up by the American pitchers.
“They showed us that they sure can hit,” Woodruff said.
Sam Harman, 10, a SYA Little Leaguer from Centreville, was asked if it was going to be a good game with the players from the former USSR. “Heck yes,” Sam said.
The highlight of the trip so far has been a sightseeing outing to Washington DC to see the White House, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The sights were overwhelming, but the consensus favorite of the visitors was President Obama’s official residence, they said.
St. Petersburg second baseman Denis, 11, said he was really enjoying the trip. “I really like it here,” he said, “I think my favorite is the pizza and the fast food.”