Archer inspired, humbled by visit to South Africa

Rays pitcher went on trip in December as a Major League Baseball ambassador

Archer inspired, humbled by visit to South Africa

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer has a curious mind. He enjoys reading, learning and seeking answers.

So Archer was the perfect choice to travel to South Africa in December as part of Major League Baseball's ambassador program, which helps build awareness of the game in different countries and continents. The trip left him humbled.

"It was pretty special," Archer said. "It was everything you would expect it to be, going to ... an underprivileged country.

"What I learned while I was over there is they don't view themselves as underprivileged. Life is just what it is. And they were just happy people."

Apartheid no longer exists in South Africa, but the 26-year-old Archer saw remnants of the ruling party's division of the races that existed from 1948-94.

"During the apartheid, you stop schooling at a very early age and started working, almost plantation style," Archer said. "You just learned basics, then you worked in the mines or on the farms.

"The point is, they're so far behind in education. If you were born there and you were black, you would have no formal education. A lot of people I ran into are now going back to school, or they're really harping to their children to take advantage of the schooling we have. There are [few] black-owned businesses, not even small ones. It's just interesting to see that dynamic and kind of learn from it and appreciate."

Archer concluded that there are "still some minds that are polluted here in the United States, but we're much further along than other places in the world."

Archer was blown away by the number of languages spoken in South Africa. Fortunately for Archer, English was one of those languages.

"There's 11 official languages in South Africa, and one of them is English," Archer said. "They can all understand. They have a hard time with the American accent. But as far as English goes, they all spoke English. And most of the kids spoke four or five languages."

Archer laughed when asked if he felt inadequate around South Africans who spoke several languages.

"Yeah, whenever I told them I spoke only one language, literally, they were shocked," Archer said. "Life is just different over there, being colonized by so many different groups. You're kind of forced to use different languages."

On the baseball side, Archer learned that his sport was less popular than other sports, particularly soccer and cricket.

"They don't have baseball in their public schools or colleges," Archer said. "[What] I kind of compare it to was the early stages of rugby here in the United States. When I was in high school, it was a club or intramural sport, but not what they offered to letter in. It wasn't a varsity sport.

"They aren't playing the sport with the mentality that they are going to play professionally and make a lot of money and have a better life for their family. They're playing strictly for the love of the game. That was so cool."

The talent level was a far cry from that of the United States. Nevertheless, Archer said "there were some talented players over there."

"Soccer is No. 1, so there are a lot of athletes, and they play cricket, so overhand throwing is not foreign to them," said Archer, noting that he could see the day when academies sprout up in the country much like they do in the Latin American countries.

In the future, Archer would like to see what he can do to promote a cultural exchange, perhaps as early as next season. He's hoping Major League Baseball and the Rays would be interested in helping such a project come to fruition.

"It would be nice to bring a guy or two over every Spring Training," Archer said. "Let them get on a Major League field. See a game or two. Maybe practice some with the Major League players. Let them see what baseball can offer them on a greater level."

Clearly, visiting South Africa was a touching experience for Archer.

"I learned a lot from them about the love of life," Archer said. "The love of the game. Just waking up every day with a greater appreciation of what we're blessed with over here."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.