Nowhere do dreams fly higher than in Spring Training, before the reality of a long and grueling baseball season sets in. And so it is in spades with Basil Taraskois one of a small group of Americans who have long supported baseball in Ukraine.
Sparking interest in the game has always been a difficult climb, of course, in a nation raving about football. But the growing participation of thousands of young Ukrainians in baseball over the years has given Tarasko, the son of Ukrainian immigrants who serves as the Little League District Commissioner for Ukraine, reason to believe the sport has finally makes its way. He has been involved in baseball since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Today, of course, the fields of his dreams lie abandoned and empty, another victim of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even with Russian artillery and troops ravaging the country, however, Tarasko, a former Major League baseball scout and New York-area college coach, clung this week to a slim hope that the things would be back to normal before too long.
“My three championship calendars are still on the calendar,” he told me by email a few days ago. “Will go to Ukraine when THE WAR IS OVER.”
Desperate messages from Ukrainian coaches indicate that it won’t be soon.
“I am absolutely sure that every person is doing what they can to help during this Horrible WAR,” he said via email.
“I get hard and heartbreaking texts from people about how ‘they bombed my building’, with video looking out the window and seeing bombs going off,” Van Schleyanother American involved in Ukrainian baseball, said SpyTalk. “Nobody’s been hurt yet,” he said of his baseball friends there last week. “There’s only devastation and anger, pretty much what you see on TV.”
A celebrated entertainer who once aspired to greatness as a player, Schley has long partnered with actor Bill Murray in ownership of a number of independent and minor league baseball teams across America. A few years ago, he and other baseball friends who had promoted baseball across Europe found fertile ground in Ukraine. In 2018, Schley and an organization called baseball for goodwhich includes the old Texas Rangers prospect Luke Salas among its backers, committed to helping build an adult play stadium in Bohuslavabout a 90 minute drive south of Kyiv.
“They built a ballpark with 500 bleachers,” Schley told me. “He has very, very nice canoes, which look very, very Eastern European. And they have a quality infield with excellent drainage. They have everything a good university field in the United States has.
A few days ago, the ground was “intact”, Tarasko said. “There are no children around, people have left. That means the Russians are in that area.” At Volyn Lyceum in Kremenets in western Ukraine, a school that hosts the Ukraine Little League Baseball Championships, “there are currently 170 children displaced from eastern Ukraine and elsewhere who are housed and need food and clothing,” he said.
Pierre Caliendo, a legendary trainer and longtime international ambassador for youth baseball, sent desperate messages from his Ukrainian friends.
“Brother good to hear from you,” one wrote to him this week.
“I’m sorry I don’t always respond, there are my own issues…last night they bombed so non-stop they thought the house was going to collapse…but we’re not panicking, we have ways to get away from here if they approach.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Tarasko and misplaced the location of a school housing children. We regret the errors.