SANTIAGO, Chile (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to guided-missile frigates USS Boone (FFG 28) and USS Thach (FFG 43) spent the day playing baseball and softball with Chilean youths at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, June 26.
The 25 Sailors spent the day helping administer an open-call youth baseball clinic to more than 150 children, before playing a local Santiago club team in games of baseball and softball.
The National Stadium was built in 1985, in anticipation of a Pan-American sports tournament. Now it is a homing beacon for baseball fans in the outlying areas of Santiago. Enrique Salas, a native Chilean and former catcher for an Australian baseball team, the Adelaide Angels, devotes his time at the National Stadium to fostering an appreciation of baseball in the local youths.
"I have a lot of kids playing baseball with me," said Salas. "I love to teach them and I'm looking forward to seeing baseball grow in Santiago first, and then the rest of the country."
The kids practice at the stadium every Saturday and games are held on Sundays. Some of them travel almost two hours to play because it is the only stadium in the region. There are several categories of youth and adult baseball teams and two softball teams that meet weekly to use the facilities at the stadium.
"Baseball is growing down here in Chile," said Salas. "We also have Americans, Japanese, Dominicans, Cuban and Venezuelan foreign nationals who live here and play at the stadium."
The children were particularly excited about an opportunity to play baseball at their stadium with Americans.
"It's always a festival for us," said Salas. "We always dream to play with a different country, especially America. It's the fever of baseball, the big game and the Major League; all the kids want to play in the U.S. They were looking forward to seeing you guys and they enjoyed having you guys play."
"The kids had the same look in their eyes that I had when I was a kid," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Christopher Penn, assigned to Thach. "It was like deja vu. One of the kids told me I was his favorite player."
Drawn together by a mutual passion for the big diamond, the Americans and Chileans spent hours competing in games of baseball and softball.
"It was a blast going out there and playing with the little kids, just seeing how deep baseball runs all over the world," said Lt. j.g. Kyle Muller, assigned to Thach. "You don't really think of Chile as a baseball country, but today was like being out in your own backyard. Baseball is a community builder. Sports are pretty much universal; they build those bonds."
Boone and Thach are in Valparaiso, Chile, for the Pacific Phase (PAC) of UNITAS 52. UNITAS PAC is a two-week, Chilean hosted, multinational naval exercise. Boone and Thach will be participating with navies from Chile, Columbia and Peru.
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