by Hoai Nam
|Home run: A member of Da Nang's baseball club during a training session. Baseball is rising in popularity in the central city. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam
(VNS) Da Nang is undergoing something of a sporting revolution. Baseball, previously all but ignored in this part of Viet Nam, is catching up with its rivals in popularity all thanks to an ambitious 19-year-old student who is the founder and coach of the city's newest team.
Pham Thanh Nhan, whose father is a Japanese engineer, started playing the sport ten years ago when he was growing up in Japan's Kochi-Ken city.
He later returned to Da Nang – the place of his birth – to study at college. The one thing missing from Nhan's new life was baseball, so he decided to start a local team. Before long he had gathered a group of 25 friends from schools across the city and last October they formed the city's first baseball outfit – team YBC.
Nhan explains that YBC is short for "Yeu Bong Chay" in Vietnamese, or "Love Baseball" in English.
"Everything fell into place very quickly. After I returned to the city I started training with a Japanese mechanic who was working for a project in the area. He taught me all of the rules, as previously I had just been playing for fun in breaks at primary school in Japan and the sport has yet to become popular in Viet Nam," Nhan recalls.
The first recruits to YBC were Nhan's 11th grade classmates from the Nguyen Hien High School. They joined him after school for practice and honed their skills for six hours a week on a piece of rough ground by the Tuyen Son Sports Centre. Soon the ranks swelled to 25 people, although only 15 are regularly involved in training. Each player contributes just VND20,000 (US$1) per month.
"With just a small sum of money we have bought used gloves, masks, balls and baseball bats. As I have been playing baseball the longest, I play at second base and instruct my teammates with rules and tactics," Nhan, explains.
"It wasn't long before all the team members fell in love with baseball. Now when we train, we do so seriously."
The fastest members of the squad are chosen to be the pitchers – the favourite position of the players.
Le Viet Tuan, 20, a first year student of French at the Da Nang-based Foreign Languages College, has become a huge fan of the sport. "I enjoy the teamwork and the level of concentration required. Since I started playing I have searched online to learn more about baseball."
Nguyen Quynh Le Thuy, who joined last week, is one of seven schoolgirls on the team. She says she was curious when first invited to join.
"Most school-girls prefer hip-hop dance courses or aerobics at the school, but my friends asked me to join the baseball team, so I decided to give it a try," Thuy explains.
"I decided to begin by training with a soft ball, and my progress was slow to begin with! However, I'll work my socks off in training to improve my play."
With a full compliment of players in place, YBC are nearly the complete article. However, they have been struggling with funds for proper training facilities, equipment and trained coaching staff.
"Our Japanese friend, who sometimes runs training sessions, will leave Viet Nam soon, so we are looking for a new coach for the team as my limited skills will not be enough," admits Nhan.
YBC get some match practice by playing a friendly game with another team in Da Nang City twice a month.
"They are a group of mainly college students and they are stronger than us. However, we have managed to beat them in some matches," says Tuan.
The team has been seeking sponsorship to play with domestic teams in Viet Nam and to organise a tournament with opponents from Da Nang and Hue.
Nhan is determined to find financial and professional assistance from baseball associations in the future.
He is also encouraging more youngsters to join the team for regular training sessions. With YBC improving every week and word of mouth spreading, it looks as though baseball in the central region may soon catch up with its rivals in HCM City and Ha Noi. — VNS