That’s because the west Cobb park played host to the Spartak Baseball Club, an exchange group of baseball players from Moscow. The club, composed of 17 youth between the ages of 7 and 12, is on a visiting tour of the Atlanta area organized by head umpire and chief of Atlanta International Umpires, Ken Vanderpool.
This is the eighth time the Spartak group has made the trip through AIU.
Vanderpool, a retired Cobb County teacher, has been involved with umpire training in 26 different countries in as many years, and in turn, has helped organize numerous tours with the intention to promote baseball, sportsmanship and learning for international and local youth.
He believes the benefit of the event is the lessons learned on both sides.
“Our intention here is to develop goodwill,” Vanderpool said. “There’s so much that these foreign kids have in common with us. We may live on a little bit of a higher standard of living than they do, but at the end of the day, they’re still just kids. They’ve got the same fears, same desires and same energy as we do, so showing them American life in a very positive way is a great bonus, and baseball allows us to do that.”
The Spartak kids were split up and integrated into the regular Oregon Park youth teams on three different fields, competing with and against one another. While not every Russian player met the skill level of their American counterparts, Vanderpool hoped the discrepancy in skill level would help the local kids with their understanding of good sportsmanship.
“I told them, these kids are great at soccer because that’s what they’ve played growing up,” Vanderpool said. “But they’re not going to be as good as you. They’re not going to have the experience and knowledge of the game because they are learning.
“(Our kids) realized these are good kids and great athletes. They are just learning our sport, so there’s been a lot of great interactions, like where our kids have learned, it’s not always about being better than everybody else.”
The Russian team’s tour began March 13 with a game at Austell’s Clarkdale Park, and it will continue tonight when Spartak visits 6-4-3 DP Baseball’s facilities at Marietta’s Aviation Sports Complex.
From there, the Russian children will delve into an itinerary of fun, games and educational ventures that transcend baseball.
Former Atlanta Braves star Ron Gant, now a morning host for Fox 5’s “Good Day Atlanta,” will interview the children of Spartak on Friday morning before they take a tour of the Governor’s Mansion. The weekend will include trips to the Georgia Aquarium and Six Flags before the tour heads to the nation’s capital for a Washington Nationals game and a possible tour of the White House.
The Spartak touring party will return to Moscow on April 4.
Vanderpool’s pockets required some substantial outside funding to make the experience a reality.
“What I do is go out and rely on the well-being and good nature of others to help sponsor this and make it happen,” Vanderpool said. “Without that, we couldn’t do it. They raised a limited amount of funds through sponsors, and then the parents raised the rest of the amount for the kids to get here.”
Vanderpool credited Pastor Max Livovsky of Lighthouse Bible Church, youth pastor Shawn Allen of Shiloh Hills Baptist Church, Elana Venuti of RussianTown Magazine and Russian-English translator Kate Humphrey as major sponsors, along with the contributions from visited attractions.
For more information on the event, visit www.atlantaumpires.com.