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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strikes and Homers on Russian Soil

Once again the crack of the baseball bat and the pop of the mitt is helping to shepherd in spring -- and not only in traditional baseball-playing countries.

With more teams being created every year around the former Soviet Union, the passion for baseball that infects millions of children -- and then stays with them for life -- has begun to show telltale symptoms here.

"I caught it like a fever", said Pavel Gladikov, who has been involved with Russian baseball as a player and coach for over eight years. "When you try it, it affects you. I know it from my own example and from my kids".

Gladikov, 30, is coaching his second youth team, Antei, which he founded in 1987. It was the second official youth baseball club founded in the former U. S. S. R. Since then he has coached over 1, 500 children, won the first junior baseball championship of Russia and made three trips to the United States with his team, which is currently playing in a tournament at Moscow University. Gladikov is bringing his best players to the European youth championships in Barcelona in late July.

Gladikov had earlier trained a children's team -- under the aegis of the Torpedo sports club -- before he had ever played or even seen the game. Baseball wasn't widely known in Russia until 1988, when it was designated an exhibition sport for the Olympic Games.

"In encyclopedias I found the sizes and shapes of the field, bat and ball", Gladikov said. "I made our first bat myself of wood. Sometimes we borrowed gloves from the Cubans at the House of Culture and once we even had a real ball. Normally, we were training with a tennis ball using the bat I made and we were catching everything with our bare hands".

The hard conditions of playing without equipment led to the disbandment of the club. Several months later Gladikov became hooked on the game when he attended his first baseball game at a tournament in Moscow. "I fell in love with the game when I saw everything with my own eyes", Gladikov explained. "So I decided to join a team".

After playing for a year, Gladikov gathered 40 children together to create Antei -- which is the Russian word for the mythological Greek Titan Antaeus, who drew superhuman strength from the earth. Now in its sixth year, Antei began under the Moscow Aviation Institute but for financial reasons was forced to go it alone. Although they have been without a main sponsor, different organizations have contributed to the team.

Gladikov has lead the same group of players to the United States three times for tournaments. On their first trip, in the summer of 1990. Antei traveled to Tlluride, Colorado -- but not without incident. Although Soviet Aeroflot was one of the trip's sponsors, the team still did not have their tickets or visas 36 hours before they were scheduled to leave. Finally at the last minute all the proper documents were secured.

"The Aeroflot authorities paid an extra $4, 000 to send us on Pan Am", Gladikov said. "But only for a price -- to pay for the trip we had to take some extra players, the children of Aeroflot bosses who had never played baseball before. The extra players never trained or played properly".

A spokesperson for Aeroflot said she had never heard of the incident.

Gladikov said the regular players trained hard and learned enough to become the youth champions of the U. S. S. R. a month after they returned.

Gladikov has high hopes for his players at the youth championship in Barcelona.

"The presentation of the joint Russian team will be a big sensation", he said. "This generation is very strong in Russia. From my team we have four boys who are very strong. I hope they will be future stars not only for Russia but for American teams and will bring glory to our baseball".