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Love of sport eases language barriers

We met at an Albright-Knox Art Gallery event -- my wife and I were there as volunteers, and so were they. We arranged to get together that evening, and that's how five college students from Poland attended their first baseball game.

They were from Rzeszow, near Krakow, and were spending their summer in Buffalo, learning American tourism and travel through Villa Maria College.

Their plan was to attend a Buffalo Philharmonic concert that night, but when baseball tickets fell into my hands, they reasoned -- sorry, BPO -- they could enjoy classical music back home, but not this. The Bisons were playing the Yankees' affiliate Columbus, and yes, they had heard of the Yankees.

How do I comment on this beautiful sport to people who have never seen it? Have you ever tried to explain the rules of baseball, let alone its complexity and nuance? I knew there would be a language gap, but would there be a generational gap as well?

I need not have worried. The three young women in our entourage passed the time with my wife and the college administrators who accompanied us, but the two young men, Radek and Andrzej, got deeply immersed in the game.

Back in Poland, I learned, they involved themselves in soccer and martial arts, so the concept of sport, of stadia, of competition, was certainly not unfamiliar to them.

I feared they would see baseball simply as one team standing around waiting to catch a hit ball, then the other, with some light entertainment in between -- that night, it was Frisbee-catching dogs -- but they quickly got the idea.

They occasionally asked for clarification. What constitutes a strike? I stood up and mimed a batter, a ball passing the shoulders, passing the knees, over the plate. Nodding in unison, they returned to contemplate the action.

Of course, some details escaped them. By the third inning, with the score 2-0 in Buffalo's favor, we had already seen a hit batsman, a balk and a situation involving two runners occupying the same base. They didn't ask, I didn't tell.

My young students of the game followed the scoreboard -- they'd never seen one so large -- and followed the arc and resolution of every foul ball sent into the grandstands. With every hit to the outfield, they'd tell each other "patrzec," roughly meaning, "hey, look," and genuinely paid attention to the progress of the game.

I've been to hundreds of games in my life, but this one was especially gratifying, for all of us.

It should be noted that the Bisons won. My guests were hoarding every dollar and thus were not interested in food or trinkets, and were delighted to accept my game program as a souvenir. And however hackneyed it sounds, I was reminded there is indeed an international language in sport.

The way some of us can watch an unfamiliar sporting event on television, stay with it a while and not long thereafter grouse about near misses and referees' bad decisions, my new friends from Poland took their understanding of sport and applied it to baseball.

Unlike, say, taking a child to his or her first game, and roaming the park all night in search of ice cream, this was a dedicated fan introducing the game he loves to two other dedicated fans. More than usual, after a game, I went home feeling rewarded.

Ed Adamczyk, of Kenmore, was happy to share his love of baseball with some students from Poland.

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