May 11, 2012
Soviet Scouts Take in a Game
In the summer of 1990, the Boy Scouts of America hosted a cultural exchange with a Soviet youth group called the Young Pioneers. This was at a time when people would still refer to a group of young Russian kids as "Soviets". Eight of the sixteen Soviet kids spent two weeks in Atlanta (in early July) while the other eight got to visit Chicago. The American scouts were sent to Moscow. Someone drew the short end of the stick there.
During their time in America, the Soviet children were exposed to everything that was sweeping the nation at the time—basically, that means Bart Simpson and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If this cultural exchange produced nothing else (and we can only pray that it didn't result in another "Red Heat"-style movie), it definitely brought the phrase "Cowabunga, dude!" across the Iron Curtain. "Don't have a cow, man" may have proved too difficult to pronounce for the Russians.
While the Young Pioneers were in Atlanta, they took in a baseball game. This was the game they saw: the July 5, 1990, matchup between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. Bob Ojeda started for the Mets, but couldn't even make it out of the second inning after giving up five hits and four runs. By the end of the fourth inning, the Braves were up 7-3 and Charlie Leibrandt seemed to be well on his way to a win. But everything fell apart in the seventh inning, when the Mets sent eight batters to the plate and scored five runs. Among those runs were home runs from Darryl Strawberry and Orlando Mercado (the last of his career). The Mets would win the game 9-8. Not even Ron Gant's ninth-inning home run, his second of the game, was enough to bring the Braves all the way back.
One Soviet boy shared his enthusiasm for the game: "I enjoyed it... I was sorry that Atlanta lost the game." Overall, the Young Pioneers saw seven home runs, fourteen strikeouts, a young, healthy, and good Darryl Strawberry, and arguably the single best game of Ron Gant's career (two home runs, a double, and six RBIs). If that doesn't scream "international relations" to you, you didn't watch enough Soviet cultural exchange movies in the late-1980s.
It's been 22 years since these young Soviets were given a taste of baseball and apple pie and it makes me wonder: is there a 35-year-old guy sitting over in Russia right now holding on to a faded Ron Gant shirsey he bought on a hot Atlanta afternoon and pining for an America he never knew? If so, cowabunga, dude. Cowabunga, dude, indeed.