If a pilgrimage to Jamaica leads to a Major League Baseball team employing Usain Bolt as a pinch runner, we'll all be better for what Joel Reinebold started.
In December, Reinebold — the head groundskeeper for the South Bend (Ind.) Silverhawks who also runs a baseball academy in nearby Mishawaka — went to Jamaica, which he had visited years before. But he was returning with an idea. The South Bend Tribune tells of Reinbold's epiphany to bring baseball to a country full of athletes and, apparently, quite a few kids interested in learning how to play a game many other Caribbean countries enjoy.
Hey, if they can make it with bobsleighs, they can make it with baseball bats.
Reinebold's journey started where so many do these days, the Tribune reports. With an internet search engine:
Reinebold Googled "Baseball in Jamaica" and found a website about an organization that was trying to advance the sport in the country. Reinebold sent a message to the organizer, Donavan Duncan, a Jamaican who currently lives in the United States.
Thirty minutes later, Reinebold's phone rang.
"And the guy on the other end goes, 'Ya mon, this is Donavan Duncan from Baseball Jamaica,'" Reinebold said in his best Jamaican accent. "I started laughing because I had told some of my buddies about the whole thing ... and I thought they were messing around with me."
It wasn't buddies. It actually was Duncan, who told Reinebold that he'd love to have him down, but that he couldn't pay him.
"I said, 'that doesn't matter,'" Reinebold told him. "'I'm not coming down there to get paid. I'd just love to be a part of this somehow.' "
And if Charlie Finley were alive today, he'd be on the phone (or the computer) and recruiting the next Herb Washington.
Washington was a track star at Michigan State with no baseball experience whom the Oakland Athletics signed after manager Alvin Dark saw him compete — on television, no less — after the 1973 World Series. After bypassing the minor leagues entirely, Washington made 105 appearances with the A's, mostly in 1974, and all he did was pinch run. The A's even used him in the World Series for this. He never got a plate appearance. Not one. He stole 31 bases, was caught 17 times and scored 33 runs in his career, which ended early in the '75 season.
Bolt could do that, no problem. And he'd have a better success rate! Seeing that Finley is no longer with us, then the Arizona Diamondbacks (South Bend's parent club) should get first crack at Bolt when he decides to ride Jamaica's major league wave. But that's getting ahead. And it's not really the point of what Reinebold intends.
Reinebold has found a place eager to learn about baseball but one that sorely lacks in resources. Few gloves. Rocks instead of balls. Weeds where there should be grass fields. Players running in bare feet so they don't ruin their one good pair of shoes. Reinebold's academy in Indiana is called "The School of Hard Knocks," but Jamaica's baseball players probably could teach a lesson or two about those. What if it leads to real leagues, which lead to a national team, which lead to the World Baseball Classic? A lot of people make fun of the WBC, and maybe it is imperfect and a pain in the butt for major league teams, but the jokesters are being short-sighted.
It might be worth it to get in touch with Reinebold to see about donating some equipment or money for Jamaica. Of course, we've got kids in the United States who could use some new (or used) gloves, bats, balls, etc. But kids are kids. And baseball is baseball. And it's worth supporting baseball, no matter where it is played.