Andy McManama took his first trip out of the country when he went to Bulgaria in late April to talk, and teach, some baseball.
That long trip away from home turned into a home run.
“The kids were awesome,” McManama said. “One thing that really surprised me was how engaged and willing they were to learn a foreign game. If somebody came over here to teach us a new sport, I don't think our culture would be as receptive.”
The bonus came when McManama was able to learn as much as he was able to teach.
“Baseball is something that I enjoy and love to do and to experience it in a different capacity in another country was really neat,” he said. “That showed me it's more than just the baseball, but the building of relationships with young people, being role models and mentors, even in a short period of time.”
McManama, a junior at IPFW and former player at Carroll High School, represents the kind of young person the World Baseball Academy (based in Fort Wayne at the ASH Centre) is trying to develop and mentor through overseas trips.
The weeklong trip to Bulgaria, which also included World Baseball Academy founder Caleb Kimmel and longtime local coach/athletic director Lee DeTurk, as well as two high school students from Michigan, could be the start of some regular youth training excursions.
Kimmel said the World Baseball Academy wants to regularly take trips to foreign countries as part of its mission to train young people to become positive role models and mentors.
“Really what the international experience is all about is helping build that mentoring relationship with our kids and empowering them to become a future mentor,” Kimmel said. “I know of no greater platform for developing someone than through sports. You just experience so many life attributes in sports.”
Kimmel, DeTurk and McManama went to Kazanlak, Bulgaria, from April 17-24. They conducted baseball skills teaching at several schools during physical education class and later held an open clinic on the weekend. During that time, they worked with a number of local students, as well as some members of the Bulgarian Baseball Federation.
The group took many donated baseball gloves and other equipment to give to the young people in Bulgaria.
There's a longstanding connection between Fort Wayne and Kazanlak, dating to 2004 and local doctors at Dupont Hospital hosting and visiting their counterparts in Bulgaria. It spread to Bulgarian farmers traveling here to Woodburn to learn modern agriculture technology. DeTurk's work with World Partners, a ministry of Missionary Church, led to the coordination with the World Baseball Academy for the sports connection.
McManama works with Kimmel at the World Baseball Academy and has a primary responsibility running baseball tournaments at the ASH Centre complex. But handling baseball tourneys in Fort Wayne is quite different from teaching baseball in Bulgaria.
“It just makes you appreciate a lot of little things,” McManama said. “They just don't have as many opportunities over there. It makes you appreciate more and more, and opens your eyes, to the fact we have it pretty good over here.”
Kimmel would love to have more young players experience the impact of a foreign trip when World Baseball Academy travels to Cameroon, Africa, in early August.
Those interested would have to go through coaches training at the World Baseball Academy and raise their own money for the trip. The non-profit World Baseball Academy does not make money off the trip.
“It's more than baseball,” Kimmel said. “We're using the game of baseball to develop young people to become leaders.”
McManama found nothing but personal rewards in his trip.
“I would go again tomorrow, it was so much fun,” he said. “I wish I could do that all the time. It was a great experience. Keeping some of those relationships we built is what it's all about. We're creating better people through the game of baseball.”