All Roads Lead to Alexandra: The Story of a Globetrotting Baseball Bag, Part Two

In my previous post, I told you some stories about the circuitous travels of baseball equipment from American outfields into the heart of one of the poorest African townships. The longest and most circuitous route yet was traveled by the last batch I sent, the one that arrived in Johannesburg just a few weeks ago.

I’ll tell you that story in a minute, but I’d like to make another point first: Yes, we’ve gotten quite a bit of used equipment over the years, but we need a lot MORE! When I write these baseball updates, I do it to galvanize you (yes, YOU!) to become involved, to help us in our efforts to equip these kids. I also do it with an eye on making our existing donors feel good, to let them see the smiling faces as a thank you for their wonderful efforts. But when you see pictures of piles of equipment on the Alexandra baseball field, it might be tempting to think that we must now have more than enough.

Well, we don’t.

We have to outfit 75 players, and due to recent successes that number is growing. Cleats and pants are the hardest to keep enough of. Some of them they grow out of in the course of one season. Some of them are the wrong sizes to begin with (we have to take what we get, and it always amazes me how well the coaches manage the process of matching everyone up with a decent pair). And some of the pants, already worn thin when we get them, simply get torn to pieces from sliding (due to some of the most aggressive base running I have seen in youth baseball!).

I mentioned recent successes. Just two years ago, we had 6 players qualifying for the IRT (now called NBC), South Africa’s big annual baseball tournament. This year, we have 20, and they all need to be outfitted with a new kit. We are very proud of everyone for working so hard, but it means that our equipment and clothing needs have never been greater. Particularly, we need white baseball pants, cleats, gloves, bats, socks, belts and balls.

And now for the promised story:

It was again the tireless Heidi Rozman doggedly pursuing Kettle Moraine High School’s baseball coaches throughout the summer of 2013 for yet another round of equipment, and it was also she who came up with the brilliant plan of how to get it to me in Nashville, where we now live, so that my son (you’ve come to know him on this blog as Jabulani) could take some of it with him on his Christmas trip to Johannesburg. She had learned that Mary Anne Zupan, the former music teacher of our kids at Wales Elementary School, was heading to a music conference at Opryland in October of last year, and recruited her for the task of delivering to me what had once again accumulated in her garage. When I drove up to meet Mary Anne at her hotel to receive it, I was humbled – her car was tiny, and other than a small personal bag with her own stuff, it was crammed to the roof with bags bursting with catcher’s gear, helmets, jerseys, and pants.

It was lovely to meet up with Mary Anne again. She is one of my favorite music teachers (I actually worship almost all music teachers!) and I credit her with being instrumental – no pun intended – in getting my kids to to dedicate part of their busy days to playing instruments and singing, and bringing the joy of music into their lives. We had a great deal to talk about, and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to catch up if it hadn’t been for Alexandra Baseball far far away in Africa.

I proceeded to stuff some of what she brought into a gigantic duffel bag, right up to Delta Airlines’ weight limit of 50 lbs, and some more into another bag next to Jabulani’s few t-shirts and shorts, and sent it on with him in early December, nervous that he’d be stopped at customs (there is a stiff import duty on bringing used clothing into South Africa). But all went well. The amazing Natalie Irwin handled it on the Johannesburg end, and they all had a great day bringing it out to Alexandra, all amidst the funeral proceedings for Nelson Mandela that were going on in Johannesburg precisely at that time. The highlight for Jabulani? He was asked to autograph a baseball for Michael Lebepe, a young man I hope will have a bright future signing his own autographs very soon, having been selected to represent the South African national team as the first player from Alexandra.

Alexandra baseball
All  of this came out of that 50 lbs bag. The t-shirts were remnants of old stock of spirit shirts at our local elementary school, and the pair of gold cleats on the left were outgrown by Jabulani, complete with an autograph from Matthew Booth of the South African national soccer team. I hope they went to a soccer fan who appreciates them! Photo: Natalie Irwin
Alexandra Baseball
It’s definitely the first autograph my son has ever been asked to give. Photo: Natalie Irwin

The story isn’t quite done yet. Jabulani’s 50 lbs of gear hardly scratched the surface of what had been in Mary Anne’s car, and I will be forever grateful to Lotte Sorenson, who reached out to me just in the nick of time before her container left Connecticut for Johannesburg, where she and her husband had decided to set down roots after a long career on the expat circuit. Or I should say Noisette, my husband, is eternally grateful, as he was starting to wonder how long his garage space would be encroached upon by all that gear. I bought the two biggest boxes I could find at Office Depot, managed to squeeze everything into them, and shipped it off to Lotte’s hotel, miraculously and with the help of the steadfast US Postal Service getting it to her just after New Year’s and the day before the container was set to be sealed. It arrived in Joburg about a month ago in March 2014, and as always Natalie Irwin made sure it made its way to Alexandra Baseball.

From Wisconsin to Nashville to Connecticut to Johannesburg – not the most direct path, but an interesting one.

donations for Alexandra Baseball
What came out of the Sorensen’s container and temporarily into the Irwin’s house before being taken to Alexandra.

These are the stories that make me miss Africa. Don’t you want to be part of the next one?

Which brings me to one last point: Yes, we do need more equipment. But we also have other expenses. It may not be your thing to hound high school coaches for pants and bats, but you can still help. I mentioned the IRT/NBC tournament, which this year is held in Durban starting April 30th. We have 18 players and 3 coaches who have to come up with ZAR3,892 (about $400) each to participate, a next to impossible sum for any family living in Alexandra. Thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors, with one family paying for the entire trip for one child, we’ve been able to cover part of that, but more is needed. Please consider donating to our tournament fund here (or contact me if you prefer a payment by check):

To conclude this two-post series, Natalie and I would like to recognize all the people and organizations who’ve supported Alexandra Baseball in one way or another. If I’ve left anyone out, I apologize. Special thanks, in no particular order, go to:

Heidi Rozman
Julie Graf
Ian and Pam Graham
The Doty Family
Chet Chetwynd
Tim Bruggemann
The Fairchild Family
The Hofheinz Family
Eddie Orizzi
The Perrin Family
Louis Bolling
Karen Lim
Mary Anne Zupan
Lotte Sorensen
Kettle Moraine High School
Dilworth Little League Baseball
The American Society of South Africa
Pitch in for Baseball
Rosann and David Whitten
Lawson Ricketts and Nick Geimer
Peggy and Chuck Ricketts
Dennis and Barbara Geimer
Gary and Dorene Wilson
Fleet and Dennis Roberts
Razor and Leann Shines
Trent Beck and Laurie Kimball
Joe and Cindy Erwin
Standard Bank
Rich and Tracey Campbell
Mike Samuelson
The Day Family
Brooke Boone and friends
John and Dianne Lucht
Bryant and Elizabeth Jones
Kristy Thomson and Daniel Lucht
The Andry Family
Sean Taylor
Rusty Jones
Cathy DeLange and Tourvest Duty Free, a division of Tourvest Holdings
Wayne Vincent
Trey Wimmer
Matt Hodgood
Mickey Weston
All the 65-plus donors who donated funds for the first Pitch In For Baseball shipment and subsequent fundraisers

And, most of all, the Irwin Family – Andy, Natalie, Peter, and John – for their tireless and continued efforts to keep the dream of Alexandra Baseball alive.

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