As news of spring training started appearing in the subheading of news websites, my stomach griped; this may just be the first year since I was six that I won’t go to a baseball game! Not much later one day at school, some of the children started asking me questions about American baseball: the rules, the players, the teams. In anticipation, I asked my parents to bring along a small whiffle ball and bat when they would visit in April. As baseball has always had a special place in the hearts of the Stillings’ family, they were happily to oblige. Not only did Mom and Dad lug a suitcase of books and protein bars, but the whiffle ball set, a few bags of cracker jacks, big chew bubble gum, and MLB-themed silly bands.
Students here have school vacation from mid-June to mid-July. I thought before they left and before we took a few weeks break from the music program that we could play baseball; they were especially excited when I promised to bring “makanan Amerika” (American food). The day we scheduled to play happened to be at the end of some testing the younger grades had, which would be a great relief for them to have some fun and ring in the summer. I showed up at school with a bag of the goodies, divided into enough packages for all the children in the music program, and a few extra for neighborhood children and the teachers to try.
We all met at the outdoor classroom where our music workshops are usually held. A few boys were playing with some small, dusty kettles from the gamelan. I asked if they wanted to play, and handed the bat to one small boy. Immediately they lined up and started whacking the ball around the room. When one student spied my bag of treats, they rushed up and eagerly reached for the long-awaited American food. For a few moments baseball was forgotten as they compared silly bands, asking what they meant (the fences at Yankee stadium, the MLB logo, “the best baseball team,” etc), and inhaled caramel popcorn. When their bellies were satisfied we moved to the front of the school.
There is no real playing field or grassy area within the grounds; children often play soccer or a variation of stick ball on a stone courtyard between a couple classrooms and houses. We marked bases with what was already set: first base a pole, second base a trashcan, third base a large cement container, and home base a wooden beam supporting a roof. I have seen the children play something similar to baseball; there are two bases, and batters swing with one hand. The pitcher stands to the side of the batter, and to get someone out the children simply chuck balls at each other. I explained that in American baseball the ball has to stay in your hand to tag someone out, and to simplify the concept of outs and innings, I told them only three people step-up to bat, then the teams change.
Pak Ndaru helped me divide the group into two teams. He also helped me making sure everyone had a turn to bat, and that the children understood a few of the different rules. Most were happy to try hitting and running the bases, though when they went to their field positions many decided to instead seek refuge in a shady spot to the side until their turn to bat. As the game progressed I slowly explained other rules; each batter had three strikes, if a fielder caught a pop-fly the batter was out, and good positions to stand to tag the runners. After an hour of sprinting around in the noonday sun, the children seemed tired and Ndaru recommended we dismiss them. Instead, most went back to the outdoor classroom and continued playing with the school’s gamelan kettles and homemade percussion instruments.
In addition to just having fun one afternoon, the purpose of playing with the children was to further encourage them to feel comfortable with me. As I am leading workshops, I am hardly and exclusively a “cultural observant;” rather, I want to work with the children and encourage their own creative and musical capabilities. I do not wish to assume the role of “teacher” either, and I hope the children saw me simply as a person hoping to gain a little more of their trust by playing with them outside of school or workshops. As I have mentioned before, Javanese people are often considered shy. Pak Ndaru and I have both noticed some of the children gaining confidence in performing and voicing musical experimentations (with lyrics, melodies, rhythms), as well as a few students noticeably developing leadership skills and collaborative efforts. This was a great chance for me to just have fun with the children and to share a part of my own culture with them. I hope that it will help the children feel more comfortable working with me in future workshops, and to confidently express themselves through their own music and lyrics.