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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

I Survived Team Spartak's Road Trip

MAINZ, Germany -- When I decided to play baseball for Moscow Spartak, I was counting on it being a learning experience. This week, in Germany, I learned about what it means to be a good guest. I spent the week in Mainz, Germany at the European Baseball tournament, a six-country invitational and our first foreign tournament of the year. We ended up 3-2, behind the Belgian and Lithuanian teams. It's a respectable record but it doesn't tell the whole story of our performance at the tournament -- especially about how we made ourselves the center of an ugly international incident involving the local police, the mayor of Mainz, the Russian ambassador, and a gallery of horrified German spectators. What happened was this: Spartak arrived broke and homeless. Over the course of a depraved and drunken 70-hour bus ride from Moscow -- easily the most powerfully disgusting experience of my life, overshadowing even Salmonella poisoning and prep school -- Spartak spent nearly all its money on bus repairs, customs fees, gasoline, aspirin and traffic tickets. We arrived in Mainz exhausted, a day late, unshaven, unshowered and badly hung over, and when we got here the team had no money left to pay for a hotel. So the coach, Pavel Gladikov, did the only logical thing; he parked the bus in a lot beyond right field and gave his team instructions to sack out for the night. I should probably mention at this point that the people of Mainz, like the people of any German city, seem to have a real passion for order and planning. Even if there are no cars around, no one here crosses the street unless the streetlight tells them to. The teeth are white here and the collars are straight. And, when I see kids here with holes in their jeans, I get the feeling that they put them there themselves. With this kind of mentality there was no way for the 350 or so German spectators attending the opening day game to cope with the sight of Spartak camped out and tending the family hearth in a bus behind right field. In public view, Spartak dressed for its game outside the bus -- a shocking sight, 15 young males prancing around in athletic supporters or, worse still, wearing nothing at all, all scratching and adjusting and whipping each other with towels. Nearby, closer to the stands, Spartak's two bus drivers were using the groundskeepers' hoses to clean the crumbs and nicotine stains that had accumulated in their graying chest hairs over the long trip. We were not only disgusting but illegal; the parking lot belonged to a nearby travel agency that didn't allow overnight visitors. On day two of the tournament the police came to urge us to leave as soon as possible. By then the tournament organizers had already been on the phone with the mayor of Mainz and the attach? to the Russian Embassy in Bonn. Was there anywhere, they appealed, they could hide the Russian team? The mayor was not sympathetic. Two weeks before he had had visitors -- Russian visitors. Russian visitors also named "Spartak." The Spartak swim team had arrived in Mainz broke and homeless. The mayor had helped them, but was not about to come near this team of baseball players who were, after all, not as thoroughly bathed as the swimmers. The Russian Embassy couldn't help. Bailing out baseball teams, they said, was not in their budget. In the end Spartak moved to a youth hostel -- the same place I had been since becoming fed up on day one of the tournament. How they got the money is a question I haven't dared to ask yet. I know I wasn't asked to sell blood at any point. In the midst of all this our star pitcher, Sergei Maklakov, came over to me and tapped me on the shoulder. "So," he said, laughing, "How does it feel to be a Russian athlete?"