United in their love for baseball

Reporting from Bonita, Ca. — Tran Trung Hieu, third baseman for the Hanoi Capitols, faked a bunt to unnerve the pitcher. It worked.

The San Diego Hustle pitcher threw the ball in the dirt for ball-one. On the next pitch he took a little off his fastball to make sure it was in the strike zone.

Hieu, 10, smashed it clean — the distinctive sound of a bat hitting a ball signaling a hit in any language. As the ball rocketed into left-field, Hieu raced to first.

In the dugout, the rest of the Capitols broke into a cheer, the Vietnamese equivalent of “go, go, go, hitting, hitting, hitting.”

It was a moment of sports diplomacy— two groups of boys separated by language, culture and food but united in their love for an American game that only recently has been exported to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Capitols, the first Vietnamese baseball team to visit America, are here for the United States Travel Sports Assn. World Series — 200-plus teams in eight divisions playing at several venues in San Diego County. The Capitols are in a division for players ages 11 and younger — the only foreign entry.

The Capitols’ organizer is Tom Treutler, an American attorney who lives in Hanoi and is married to a Vietnamese woman. He arranged for the trip and helped pay for it, along with financial support from a Vietnam-based securities firm. His 12-year-old son, Ben, is on the team.

“Our team is new,” Ben said. “We feel good and strong. We just need experience, we’ve got to play smarter.”

The Capitols have yet to win a game, neither in San Diego nor in the tournaments in Indonesia and Taiwan where they played on their way to the U.S.

Many of the American players have been playing baseball since their tee-ball days and have had the advantage of neighborhood batting cages, expensive equipment and expert coaching. Most of the Capitols have been playing baseball for about a year, some only for months.

Former big-league pitcher (and four-time All-Star) Troy Percival is the coach of the Riverside S.W.A.T. team that routed the Capitols at Little Padres Field on Thursday. He said it was a learning moment for his players to see the energy of their Vietnamese competitors.

“I told our kids that they should feel lucky for all the advantages they have in this country,” he said.

Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/02/local/la-me-vietnam-baseball-20100802