Darkness has descended, like a great damp tarpaulin, upon our land; and as the hot stove gradually cools to a simmer, as the last awards are desultorily awarded, and as the last Brandon McCarthy tweets settle around us like falling leaves, we enter a time of lonely and solemn reflection. It is at times like these — when our collective spirit meets its greatest trial; when all purpose seems to retreat before us; when all we have is each other — that I grasp for the resolve, the determination, the inner strength, to pack my bags and go somewhere else. And that is precisely why I am now inaugurating a new series of posts, titled: Around the Horn*: Four Boats, Thirteen Camels, Two Hundred and Seventy-Six Bouts of Intestinal Distress, and One Man’s Quest to Find Baseball Where He’d Never Expected It. Over a period that may or very well may not amount to eighty days, I’ll be circumnavigating the globe, spending time in countries where baseball is obscurely played, and ruminating on the meaning of our sport, as well as on what it means to be human, as time and space permit.
For our first stop, lusty wanderers, join me in exotic Malaysia — land of the pungent durian, the sonorous gendang, the wavy-bladed kris. Better known for badminton, squash, and lawn bowls, Malaysia might seem an unlikely venue for the American pastime. Imagine, then, this traveler’s delighted surprise when he learned of Malaysian All-Star League Baseball (MALB) — an “adult baseball league organization” which owns, among what I’m sure are many other distinctions, the quite startling one of being the only sports league in the world with both male and female players! It’s true: the league’s official website, on its Registered Players List, names no fewer than four members of the fairer sex (three of whom, somewhat suspiciously, appear to play second base for the Kuala Lumpur Yankees).
The story of baseball’s arrival in Malaysia is a gripping and heartwarming tale of cross-cultural triumph: Texas Instruments, it seems, established a factory there in the 1970s, and its American workers taught the game to their local acquaintances. The idea of a league finally reached fruition in 2006, and MALB now boasts fifteen members, including (in addition to the aforementioned Yankees) the Vipers, the Wipers, the Rhynos, the Ronins, the Nazghuls, the All-Stars, and “Pandora.” Malaysian teams also compete regularly with other clubs in the region, including the Dobbermans of Indonesia, the Gunners of Brunei, and the X-Men of Singapore.
These contests are not especially well documented. In fact, I cannot find any concrete evidence of baseball actually being played in Malaysia since 2009. As the most recent and only entry in the MALB Bulletin notes, “Last year’s MALB faced some stormy weathers, with the late start in the league (usually league begins in March, but in 2009 it started in August) as well as falling out of several seasoned teams and baseball players.” The anonymous author later alludes to an additional challenge in the form of “a certain individual, trying to be the champion and advocate of all former softball players playing baseball in Malaysia.” “Why,” asks the author of this individual, “is there a need to show off your unproven capabilities to others?…The industry is small, thus showing off your unsharpened claws to senior softball players would result devastatingly to your credentials.” However, in another passage he or she strikes a hopeful note: “This is a new year for baseball. According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 will mark the entrance of the year of the Tiger. The tiger is known to be a fearless beast that has enormous strength and energy. It is this Tiger that would bring definite changes to Malaysian baseball.” I do not know whether the lofty hopes for 2010 were ever fulfilled.
I have, however, located a report on the exploits of the Malaysian national baseball squad, during their participation in the 2009 Asian Cup, which may give the reader a flavor of the game as it is played in this singular nation. Captained by star third baseman Low Wui Yong, the team returned from Bangkok without a single victory to their name, yet with their heads held high. In the first game, the plucky Malaysians found themselves facing “the prowess of Pakistan, a nation well known for its Cricket talents, a sport that is almost similar to the game of Baseball.” The game was called after five innings by the mercy rule, with the score 20-0, as “the MBS was simply overwhelmed by the skill set of Pakistan.” The second contest was kept close for several innings, before the Malaysians “succumbed to heavy pressures and attacks from the Thailand team.” After this loss, notes the reporter, “it was obvious that the MBS were heavily dis-oriented mentally and spiritually.” Game 3 offered little respite, with fearsome opponent Sri Lanka sending “tremors running down through the spines of every team member.” However, they at last managed to put up a run, with Ng Siew Meng stealing third and scoring on Mohd Zahrul Shafiq’s hit. Though they would go on to lose 9-1, “the MBS celebrated the single run with cheers and joyfulness as if they had won the game. That is the spirit of the MBS, playing fun seriously!!” The fourth and final game started auspiciously for the Malaysians, with an offensive eruption leading to an early 5-2 lead. Unfortunately, “the team never recovered morally from an error made by one of the MBS team member, which led to more errors by others,” and the squad ultimately found themselves “over-ran” by the Cambodians. Despite the moral weaknesses, the reporter wraps up with admirable optimism, observing: “We’re proud that we still could give them a fight despite our lack of coaches and team maturity. Next time round, MBS will definitely whack their butts.. That’s a promise… That’s a guarantee.”
So ends our sojourn in lovely and hopeful Malaysia. If any of you kind readers can provide information on baseball in this country within the last three years, I would be most eager to receive it, as I cannot help but fear for the survival of this remarkable league. Meanwhile, stay tuned for next time, as we continue our trip…Around the Horn!
* “Around the Horn” is a “double entendre” referring both to baseball infielders’ ritual of throwing the ball to one another in sequence following an out, and to the notoriously perilous sailing feat of rounding South America’s Cape Horn.