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Baseball isn’t always so easy to comprehend

NILES — Baseball is something I’ve grown up with since I was 7 years old. A little boy and a beige MacGregor glove with a scratch inside, occasionally irritating my fingers.

It didn’t matter when the white ball with the red stitching hit the mitt off the crack of the bat. The contact felt good and natural. Going from home to first, second, third bases and back home was one of the first things you learned about base running.

Positions go from the pitcher as No. 1 to right field as No. 9. It’s a numbers game.

Double plays. Stolen bases. Hit and run. All terms baseball fans know.

Now imagine you went to another country, saw a sport that you had no clue about … and then you see things differently.

A group of Northern Irish teens and their hosts attended a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game earlier this month. They are part of the Ulster Project, which was started by Rev. Kerry Waterstone, an Anglican priest in Ireland after a trip to the United States. He formed an exchange program to send Northern Irish teens to America for the month.

It is a peace project where teens from the Mahoning Valley and Northern Ireland do service projects as well as fun things like going to a Scrappers game and Cedar Point.

Baseball isn’t a sport seen in Northern Ireland, so that’s why viewing the Scrappers was so befuddling.

“I got confused at the beginning,” Laura Vernon said. “I started cheering the gray team. They told me we had to cheer the white team, which is the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.”

Now there’s a game called rounders, which is played in Northern Ireland. It is thought to be the precursor to baseball. There’s a place like home plate, but batters use one arm to bat and the ball has to be thrown below the waist. It’s sometimes played with a tennis ball and the bases are posts.

The rules are different. There are no umpires there. You know, those people wearing all black and sometimes masks and padding if you’re behind home plate.

“I’m confused about the wee man up at the back,” Vernon said.

It’s not like those balls in rounders. Baseball has 90 mile-per-hour fastballs. Nothing like that is seen in rounders. Noah McBurney is OK with that.

“It’s coming so fast,” he said. “I think I’d miss it every time.”

Caoimhe Gatt, a Northern Irish counselor, said she’s seen baseball before and knows the fundamentals. She said the teens played kickball prior to the Scrappers game, so they knew a bit of what was going on that night.

It was an enjoyable night out for the teens.

“It’s an experience they won’t have,” Gatt said. “It’s good to get them out and about.”

Seeing a dog mascot like Scrappy is something these teens haven’t seen before either.

“It’s interesting with a dog with a hat,” Northern Irish counselor Michael Croft said. “I don’t know what to make of it.”

American counselor Kyle O’Donnell said the teens write in daily journals about their travels during the month of July. O’Donnell joked and said he should have the teens write about the rules of baseball.

“I think it’s second nature for those of us that are around it a lot,” he said. “It’s amazing how misunderstood it can be if you’re not familiar with it.”

So, going from home to first to second to third and back home again isn’t as simple as some might think.

jvargo@tribtoday.com

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