Fairfax Co. kids teach Russian counterparts baseball

America meets Russia on a Fairfax County baseball field this week. Players are learning more than just how to shag a fly.

Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va. – Calling out fly balls is a bit more complicated at youth fields in Fairfax.

But the reward during this rare exchange between Russian and American youth baseball players is learning a new culture while taking grounders and shagging flies.

Twenty-nine Russian players, ages 8 to 15, are working on a game they’ve come to love in an environment that’s entirely unfamiliar.

“The main sport in Russia is soccer. Our teams play on soccer fields,” says coach Dennis Novokshoenov.

But Tuesday and Wednesday, players are practicing and scrimmaging on fields that have a mound, basepaths and an outfield fence.

“We have no baseball field in St. Petersburg, Six million people live [there] but no baseball field,” Novokshoenov says.

To his knowledge, the country has but five to eight baseball fields all together, and interest subsided when the Olympics dropped the sport for the London 2012 games.

But as players arrive at the camp in Fairfax County, they are surrounded by as many fields in a square mile as their home country may have in total.

“They certainly have the desire for it,” says Bob Woodruff, president of Southwestern Youth Association.

“You can see that they’ve only been playing for a year or two. Some of our kids that are out here have been playing for 10 years,” he says.

Fairfax County’s Southwestern Youth Association hosts the baseball camp. It was organized through the Fairfax County Baseball Council and the U.S. State Department.

In addition to taking grounders and getting some at-bats, the visiting players also get to attend a Nationals game during their 11-day stay.

Ten-year-old Matthew, who was fielding his counterparts’ outfield throws, passed along common baseball advice.

“Stay down on ground balls, catch pop flies with two hands,” he says.

He, like other American players, picked up a few basic Russian words during practice.

In turn, the visitors made some adjustments.

“They have improved on throwing and fielding ground balls,” he says.

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