100 Percent Cotten

April 24, 2007

Halfway around the world there's a Wake Forest baseball cap and four black and gold shakers with a new home, and "Deacs" doesn't mean what you think it does.

I had the privilege during the first two weeks of April of traveling to the Middle East to teach baseball to kids trying to dig their cleats into a new game and to spread a little goodwill in a part of the world getting too used to strife, mistrust and conflict. Many Jordanians speak very good English, and the language barrier was minimal. But baseball has its own language, and there aren't many words needed anyway when bat meets ball.

The game takes over.

Kids from six to sixteen were preparing for the start of their baseball season. Some had gloves, some didn't. The starting pitcher for a Senior League team on Opening Day didn't have a cap, and even though the new league's rules state that all pitchers must wear caps - nobody much minded that he didn't. His smile was too disarming. He was playing baseball.

Three years ago a team sent by the Oar Foundation of Clemmons scratched out two baseball diamonds from the rocky Amman, Jordan, soil, erected dugouts and fences - and baseball was born. Oar built it, and they came. They came in cars and trucks; some walked. But they came, even though some had no idea what baseball was. They do now, and America's pastime is catching on where just beyond the left field fence you're just as bound to see a nomadic shepherd tending his flock as you are a group of kids playing ball with a stick and a wadded up paper cup - waiting their turn at the real thing.

Our team was led by former Wake baseballer Jim Israel, a Deacon in the early `60's and the uncle to former Wake punter Ryan Plackemeier. This was his second straight year in Amman overseeing the clinics for the kids, and Jim's blood runs deep Black and Gold. He addressed the moms and dads and kids on our first visit with them to explain why we had come and what we hoped to accomplish. He had a "tip of the day" to give everyone a glimpse of what kinds of drills we were going to be leading the kids through. The tip was about proper throwing motion, and Jim illustrated it by having the entire team, four of us, go through the throwing motion while holding a black and gold shaker in our throwing hand and shouting, "GO DEACS!" The shakers helped all to see how the arm should move throw the "throw zone" - plus we got to spread a little Wake Forest love in the Middle East!

We then had the whole crowd stand and do the same. I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen and heard it with my own eyes and ears. "GO DEACS" reverberating through the Jordanian hillside. It was pretty exciting. The shakers were left behind as door prizes for Opening Day at the end of our stay, and somewhere in Amman, Jordan, there are four new adopted members of the Wake Forest family.

Well, at least they're cheering for us whether they know it or not.

And then there's my Wake Forest ball cap. Black with a gold WF on the front. It's Tariq's now. Tariq is my new friend, a Jordanian hoping that baseball will catch on in his native country. A man like many of his countrymen, good-natured and giving. Most times with a smile on his face.

Tariq helped the Oar team in and out of the country, holding our hands through customs and the whole passport, visa thing. New to me, but Tariq helped make it as smooth as it possibly could be. He whipped a team of helpers into shape coming into the country, getting 26 trunks of baseball gear through inspection and loaded into vans for 30 JD - about $45. The helpers wanted 50 JD. But in Jordan, most everything is negotiable.

And it was Tariq who was last to see us off at Queen Alia Airport. With a kiss on each cheek, he was gone and headed back to his life as a resident of the Middle East. He liked the cap I gave him, and I know that he's wearing it - maybe even saying GO DEACS from time to time.

But he's probably saying it to himself. Deac means "rooster" in Arabic.

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