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Russians Watch World Series Baseball - 2003-10-29

Russians got their first chance to see World Series baseball on the nation's biggest television sports channel, which broadcast the games that ended Saturday when the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees. Baseball is little known in Russia and was only made an official national sport in 1986. But Russians are taking to the game like true fans the world over.

These boys sound like any others watching a baseball game, but these youngsters are in Russia, watching the World Series on television for the first time, with play-by-play commentary in Russian.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took a youth baseball team with him on his last trip to the United States. During the visit the idea of broadcasting the World Series in Russia came up.

As a result Russians gathered last week in bars, in homes, and even schools to watch American baseball.

Dmitri Anisimov is the chief producer at Russian television's new government channel, SPORT, inaugurated a few-months ago. SPORT is re-broadcasting the games at no charge to viewers.

Mr. Anisimov says he knew the games would be popular. But he does not know whether the broadcasts will be a one-time event for Russia or the beginning of a new tradition of annual World Series broadcasts. At the very least, he says, Russians will know a whole lot more about baseball after these broadcasts.

Mr. Anisimov says when he started watching the World Series he did not know a single thing about baseball. But he says within 20 minutes, and with the help of a good Russian commentator, he understood all he needed to know about the game.

The catcher for the Soviet Union's first national team, Andrei Artamonov, still remembers the first time he saw people playing baseball on the lawn at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. It was not long afterwards that he started learning how to play the game. He quickly reached the Russian professional level.

Now, at age 40, Mr. Artamonov shares his love of the game and wealth of experience by coaching one of the best under 12 national youth baseball teams in Europe. He says baseball has a lot to offer young people.

Mr. Artamonov says baseball teaches teamwork, one for all, and all for one. But at the same time, he says it is a sport for individuals because when you are in the batter's box, it is only you and the pitcher, and no one else can help you.

Eleven-year-old Anton Chekalin was among the young Russian baseball players who recently gathered to watch the game at one of the only middle schools in Moscow that offers baseball as part of its sports curriculum. Anton says playing baseball helps him maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Anton says the boys on the baseball team do not smoke or drink alcohol, like many of the other boys do.

That fact pleases his mother, who has no complaint about the $50 it cost her just to buy Anton's brown leather baseball glove. She also gladly bought his shoes, uniform, and cap, as well as a sporty baseball jacket emblazoned with a gold Russian eagle.

She says she and her family are glad to have the chance to see their first World Series.

Pasha Talakin is a teammate of Anton's, and traveled with him to the United States during President Putin's recent visit there. During their tour, they took a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. They also played a series of exhibition games against U.S. youth teams.

Pasha says the trip was a great way to promote the game to President Putin, whose favorite sport is karate.

Pasha says he and the other boys want baseball to be better developed in Russia. He says they want more fields and stadiums to be built, and they want the president to know more about the game.

Pasha says he wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up, as does Anton, and the majority of young boys who gathered to watch the World Series. One girl was in the group. She said she too would like to play pro ball in Russia, if girls are ever given the chance.