Monday, February 18, 2008

"Baseball Brings Smiles to Their Faces"

Today's Los Angeles Times brings the story of a Cambodian genocide survivor who is working to ensure that baseball will take root in his homeland.

Joe Cook, who was born Joeurt Puk in Cambodia just five years before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, has raised over $300,000--much of it his own money--to take a sport he came to love as a young refugee in the United States back to his home. The Times' Kevin Baxter writes:

Cook . . . has spent the last five years trying to turn the former killing fields of his homeland into fields of dreams for a generation that has known little more than war, poverty and despair.

Along the way he's lost his life savings, his car and nearly his marriage. And, Cook insists, some people in Cambodia would like to see him dead.

"I want to walk away from this. I do. But these kids," he said, pointing to a photo of three shoeless children in torn clothes toting bats and gloves through a rice paddy, "baseball brings smiles to their faces."

In December, thanks to Cook, Cambodia fielded a national baseball team for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand. It was a milestone as inauspicious as it was historic: Cambodia's first four hitters struck out without even touching the ball, and it took four games for the team to get its first hit.

But, as Cook noted, "winning is nothing. The biggest deal is we showed up."

Read the whole story here.