One family's national pastime mission

One family's national pastime mission

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The first batter for Nichia Gakvin, a team from a school in Argentina that focuses on Japanese culture, swings at the game's first pitch and lofts a drive deep to right.

His ball sails over the right fielder's glove and rolls and rolls.

Gibson Dintersmith, playing third base for Club Independiente, watches as the pencil-thin boy rounds third base and heads home. His teammates mob him after he touches the plate. With their heads bowed, Gibson and his teammates can only prepare for the next hitter.

Gakvin 1, Club Independiente 0.

But leadoff home runs go with baseball just as Babe Ruth, hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack do, although Gibson might have been the lone player on either team to know quite that much about this decidedly American pastime.

For in Buenos Aires, baseball has no long history. The game is new to boys and girls here, though all of them on this makeshift field understand the nuts and bolts of it. They know that as the home team, Club Independiente will have plenty of outs it can use to make up the 1-0 deficit.

Yet it didn't really matter if Club Independiente won or lost this ballgame, not to 11-year-old Gibson. To him, the most important thing was being in Buenos Aires with his family and playing ball with boys and girls here.

He is six months into a crazy idea his father, Ted, and mother, Elizabeth, hatched last summer. The three of them and 8-year-old Sterling, a girl, are traveling the world, and they are bringing baseball along for the ride.

Buenos Aires is the family's current stop in its mission to spread the gospel of baseball.

FIRST THE IDEA
Baseball wasn't part of the initial idea.

Ted Dintersmith, a successful venture capitalist, had long dreamed of taking his family on a tour of the world. The idea had rattled around in his mind for the better part of a decade after he'd heard two friends regal his family with tales about their world tour.

Dintersmith thought to himself then: Why not take my family on a world tour?

As life gets turned topsy-turvy in the hustle of job, family and friends, ideas like his sink deeper and deeper into one's subconscious.

The idea might have buried itself too deeply in Dintersmith's brain to retrieve had it not been for the swift sale of the family's house in Charleston, S.C., last summer. The family had been planning to leave the Charleston area and move elsewhere; suddenly, the four of them were positioned to bid the city adios quicker than they'd imagined.

"Where next?" Ted Dintersmith thought.

How about that crazy idea still roaming loose in his mind?

A tour of the world didn't look so crazy now with time, money and Gibson and Sterling at an age where they could appreciate what they might see in a nomadic journey to some of the world's most exotic and out-of-the-way places.

But if the Dintersmiths went, did they need a purpose? Was just seeing the world -- to take a National Geographic kind of look at an ever-changing planet -- enough?

Not a bad reason, sure. But was that alone good enough to pick up roots and globetrot?

Or could Ted Dintersmith find another reason?

Yeah, he could. It was baseball.

THE DECISION
"I was reading an article last summer about what the Yankees were doing in China," Dintersmith said as he sat in the marbled lobby here of the Four Seasons Hotel. "I said, 'Bingo!'"

That cinched things for Dintersmith. He had his other reason: He decided to take baseball to places it had rarely been. He and his family would serve as "unofficial" ambassadors for the game.

He said he contacted the Red Sox.

"They said, 'This sounds like a great thing to do,'" he said.

Their support reinforced in his mind that what he and his family were embarking on was an adventure worth doing. They would experience the world and all it had to offer and plant the seeds for baseball in their travels.

The Dintersmiths then talked to friends and weighed their own interests before plotting an itinerary for a journey that is taking the family 10 months to complete.

"My kids' reaction was they really didn't want to do it," he said.

The decision wasn't theirs to make. It was dad's and mom's, and they both saw value in exposing Gibson and Sterling to an adventure that would heighten their appreciation of other cultures, of other people and of baseball.

But the decision took Sterling a while to accept. Three days or so in Sydney, Australia, she said. The family took a trip outside the city to see wildlife. The kangaroos won Sterling over.

"The only thing we'd done before this was to go to museum," she said. "I was like, 'Gee, are the only things we're going to do is go to museums?'"

Six months later, Sterling knows full well that the trip is about more than museums.

BASEBALL IN A BACKPACK
Through those months, she and her family have lived out of suitcases. They've visited 18 countries on their mission of spreading the gospel of baseball; they have four month's worth of places yet to see.

Their latest missionary work has brought the family to Buenos Aires and gotten Gibson a starting spot at third base for Club Independiente.

"We wanted to spend a lot of the time in Asia, Africa and South America," said Ted Dintersmith, fresh from a stay in neighboring Chile. "We love South America, and we'd like to spend more time here."

That makes sense, because he and his family have plenty of work to do in a futbol-crazed region that has a small appetite for baseball.

But like any true believer, Ted Dintersmith can see converts to be had here. He finds Argentina, a country of 45 million, fertile enough that if he can plant the right seeds, baseball will flourish like grapes on vines in the country's heartlands.

And if it does, the Red Sox will have thousands to add to their nation.

For the Dintersmiths, besides being diehard lovers of baseball, are rabid Red Sox fans. They once lived in what might amount to a wild Manny Ramirez throw from Fenway Park. They still lament the day when the Class A team in Charleston became a Yankees farm team.

Yet they're seeing parts of the world with no allegiance to any Major League team. And they'd rather people everywhere embrace baseball, even if it meant rooting for the darn Yankees.

THE MISSION
As the Dintersmiths planned their global trek, they ruled out Europe. They had made family trips there before. They didn't see Europe undergoing the kind of sweeping change that was going on elsewhere, and they wanted to experience those changes firsthand.

They have.

They've seen the face of change in places like Tibet; Hanoi, Vietnam; Beijing, China; Bangkok, Thailand; Delhi, India; Auckland, New Zealand; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Tasmania; the Kangaroo Island, South Australia; and Nimaj, India. They've seen the face of change in the Yangtze River, on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America and in Machu Picchu in Peru.

All those experiences remain vivid in Gibson's mind, almost as if they were tattooed there. But many of the most vivid are the ones tied to baseball. Not all of them are good memories.

In Bangkok, Gibson remembers training with about 125 other youngsters under the sauna-like sun of a Thai summer. But Thais didn't train in a typical baseball way: They never took batting practice, and their four-hour practice centered on conditioning.

The players ran for 90 minutes. And so did Gibson.

"It felt like two hours," he sighed.

His father laughed.

"That was not your favorite practice then?" said Dintersmith, as if he didn't know his son's answer.

"No," Ted responded.

But Gibson and his sister can replace the agony of Bangkok with Buenos Aires, because their experiences here didn't duplicate Thailand in any way.

With his father helping coach and with Sterling looking on, Gibson played in a pickup game on the open expanses of a soccer field. He played third, pitched two innings and listened to advice from one of the Argentine coaches.

Ted enjoyed himself as much as the Argentine youngsters on the field did.

After the game, he lined up with his teammates and shook hands with the boys and girls of Nichia Gakvin, who won the ballgame. His father then gave each youngster a baseball cap with the words "Red Sox" on the front.

The Argentine coaches reciprocated. They gave him, Gibson and Sterling caps that had the words "Pequenas Gas De Beisbol Argentina" stitched on the front.

Everybody embraced. Everybody thanked each other. Everybody smiled.

"This was fun," Dintersmith said.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Baseball in Buenos Aires was over. It was back to the hotel. They've had too little time here and too many sites to see. But their itinerary had plenty of other stops on it.

Next up was a return to Chile. They head there on Tuesday morning. From there, the Dintersmiths travel farther south to the Antarctica to hang out, as Sterling hopes, with penguins.

"We probably aren't going to play a lot of baseball in the Antarctic," her father said.

He laughed at the thought.

"We couldn't field a team in the Antarctic," he said.

He will find no shortage of players to field a team in other spots on the family's trot around the globe. How much those boys and girls will know about playing baseball before the Dintersmiths arrive remains an altogether different matter.

But Ted Dintersmith, who's doing all of this with his own dollars, doesn't mind teaching and promoting the game. He hopes his enthusiasm for the sport has created interest in it from boys and girls in China, India, New Zealand and Vietnam. Maybe his visits will win fans in places he has yet to visit. He has plenty of those left, too.

Morocco's on the itinerary. So are Egypt, Jordan, Dubai, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, Tanzania and, the political climate there willing, Kenya.

"Are we going to Kenya?" he said. "We'll have to watch."

Wherever that final stop is, Ted Dintersmith hopes that he, his wife and their two children will have come away from their journey changed, as he puts it, in profound ways.

"I'd also hope that we would have done some things, and maybe through baseball, that put our country in a good light," Ted Dintersmith said.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.