Chasing The International Baseball Dream
by Olga Zavolovich
McGwire, Sosa, Krassner and Gilmore—home run hitters extraordinaire! McGwire topped Maris and ended 1998 at 70. Sosa was right behind him with 66. But neither has equaled the feats of Jerry Krassner and John Gilmore who, as members of the Foreign Devils over-30 baseball team, have homered in Denmark, Ukraine, and China.
While most Americans enjoy their summer vacations relaxing in splendid bliss, Gilmore and Krassner answer the call of the ump to travel to exotic lands in the pursuit of international baseball. Appropriately named the "Foreign Devils," over the last few years John and Jerry have tasted the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in Beijing, Shanghai, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, Kiev, Kirovograd, and Copenhagen.
Gilmore's first international competition was against the USSR Olympic team in 1990 during a 21-day, 16-game tour in which his team went 15-1. "We lost the first game after our Soviet hosts had provided only vodka as our evening meal drink the night before the game," said Gilmore. "Combined with team jet lag and a starting pitcher who had spent the last 2 nights in jail after leaving his passport at home, it was a long and exhausting game. But we made up for it by winning the rest and even no-hitting the Aeroflot Fighting Chickens."
In 1994 Gilmore organized and played on 2 consecutive baseball team tours to Moscow. "Our teams consist of players I have met playing in tournaments in the US over the years plus a few rookies each year who joined us after hearing about our exploits from other players," indicated Gilmore.
In 1995 rookie Jerry "Merry K" Krassner joined the Foreign Devils a few days before their Moscow to St. Petersburg tour. "I found out about the trip a week before they were leaving", exclaimed Jerry. "I immediately got a passport, Russian visa, plane tickets, and then signed up." Promised an adventure, Jerry's memorable experiences included pitching at the Red Army Special Force Base, seeing his hotel catch fire, trading for a Soviet military winter coat, returning to the hotel after visiting a flea market to find a dead man on the steps (an umpire?), and sharing a train compartment for the train ride to St Petersburg with an Arab tree salesman.
"I had given John my wallet and passport to hold as I didn't know if I could trust this guy," explained Jerry. "I was less than thrilled when the police came into our compartment at 2am wanting to see our documents. It was even more exciting when I realized that they didn't speak English and they had just begun abusing my cabin mate! He and I bonded quickly after that."
Both Gilmore and Krassner hit over .400 during the tour with Gilmore throwing a complete game 11-0 shutout victory over the Tver Bears. A great achievement for both when you consider that the average age for their Russian opponents was 21.
Surviving his Russian adventure, Jerry signed up for the 1997 tour to Amsterdam, Kiev, and Kirovograd. "Krassner pitched a great game in Amsterdam against a team of ex-Dutch major leagues to give us a 7-4 victory," Gilmore recalled. "But I am not sure how much of the Ukraine trip he remembers." When asked to elaborate, Krassner volunteered, "Let's just say that in Holland I scored runs, but in Kiev I had them." During a game versus the Kiev Stars, Gilmore hit a game winning three-run homer over the right-centerfield fence for what proved to be his 5th consecutive and most memorable hit of the 1997 tour.
Not be outdone, on their 1998 trip to Denmark, Krassner hit an inside-the-park home run versus the Copenhagen Apaches. Rising to the occasion during the Oresund Cup Tournament, Jerry displayed pitching, power, and speed all in one package. "It's just a shame that baseball is a five-tool sport," commented Gilmore. Defeating all the Danish teams in the tournament, Gilmore and Krassner brought home (to Gilmore's home anyway) the Oresund Cup as their memento.
The Foreign Devils played in Beijing in 1999 and Gilmore once again hit a three-run game-winning homer in their final game while Jerry pitched brilliantly in two losses (or so he claims). "Most people don't know that China has pitched the only no-hitter in Olympic competition," Gilmore informed us. The Devils returned to China this year to play in Beijing and Shanghai, and Gilmore extended his consecutive-year China homer run record to two. With an August 2000 trip to Switzerland scheduled, the Foreign Devils hope that no one confuses their defense with Swiss cheese.
What's does next year hold for these daring Foreign Devils? "I'm looking into either China, Cuba, and possibly Egypt as three tours in 2001," said an eager Gilmore contemplating future baseball adventures. "Most people only get to dream about international baseball competition, but we are lucky enough to live out our dreams," Gilmore explained. "Our goal is to play until we drop, but stop before we start dropping all the balls."