Harry Towne has an idea: he wants to get Little League baseball started in Costa Rica. And he has a plan: it takes equipment, kids, baseball diamonds, coaches and some money. He has pretty much everything on the list except money –$670, to be exact.
An 11-year resident of Costa Rica, Towne, 68, is originally from FridayHarbor, in the U.S. state of Washington. Also from FridayHarbor is Mark Cunningham, who has been collecting baseball gear for 10 years. After collecting 600 pounds of gear – enough for eight teams, according to Towne – Cunningham crated it up and shipped it to Costa Rica in two legs: from Friday Harbor to Miami, and from Miami to San José. Cunningham paid for the first leg, and now Towne is looking for donations to pay for the second leg of the freight and to release the equipment from Costa Rican Customs.
“Mark was planning on donating the equipment to a Latin American country – his first thought was Mexico – as he wanted to make sure the stuff ended up in the hands of poor kids.” Towne said. “I talked him into donating it here in Costa Rica.”
Towne, who lives in San Isidro de Heredia, north of San José, was a Little League baseball coach for 15 years in the United States.
“Little League to me is kids 9 to 12 or 13 years old, and it’s all volunteer,” he said. “Each team has to find a sponsor to buy new equipment as needed, and to pay an umpire. In the United States, it used to cost about $300 a year.”
Towne’s vision is to start a Little League that is free to all kids, boys and girls, and operates on funding from team sponsors. The teams could eventually play Panamanian, Nicaraguan and perhaps even U.S. teams. A cultural exchange is also part of his vision.
“We could take a photo of the kids here and send it to the kids in FridayHarbor, and we could start a pen pal exchange,” he said. “Hopefully in the future we can have the U.S. kids come down here and play baseball. Baseball would be the goodwill ambassador.”
In addition to the $670 needed for shipping and Customs expenses, Towne is seeking a sponsor to get a team going, as well as coaches.
He said there is not much baseball going on here, though he knows of a league that plays in La Sabana Park, in western San José.
“But,” he said, “the coaches are paid, so it’s only ‘Little League’ because the players are ages 9-13 or so.”
Towne noted that baseball has a stronger following in Panama and Nicaragua, and looked into the organization in those countries.
After finding out that the Lions Club in Panama runs the whole Little League for the country, he talked to the Zurquí Lions Club in his own community of San Isidro.
“They said they don’t do baseball, but since this is such a grassroots community organization, they can help us,” he said.
“They talked to the municipality to donate an empty lot, and they said they would do the organization, search for sponsors, organize the parents, organize a bus when we need it. It’s kind of a pilot project; we could get this going wherever there’s a Lions Club.”
Maria Hoffman with the Zurquí Lions Club is enthusiastic about the idea.
“This kind of project really helps a community, and in the end helps the kids,” she said. “Marginalized towns or communities have problems with drugs, and organizing sports activities gives the kids something to do.”
Though Hoffman admitted the Lions Club doesn’t have the funds to pay for the release of the equipment from Customs, she said it could offer the organizing structure for the league.
“We can be administrative in the community; we can knock on doors and tell people about the program and see if the kids want to play baseball,” she said. “We can put out pamphlets to let people know, and announcements on the radio so that kids get involved. When there are people taking responsibility, it works.”
Thinking about where the teams would play, Towne figured that the abundant soccer fields across Costa Rica could be used.
“We will have to develop baseball fields – some clever way to adapt a soccer field,” he said. “It’s a backstop issue, and I’m thinking of using old fishing nets, and a bamboo structure, so it can be moved.”
“Most soccer fields I’ve seen are low and muddy in the middle, so it’s a drainage issue, too,” he added.
Towne thinks the sport could really take off in the Northern Zone, since “there are a lot of Nicaraguans up there, and they can help because baseball is like a religion up (in Nicaragua),” he said. “They can teach kids how to play.”
“There are already Costa Rican teams playing Panamanian and Nicaraguan teams, but they are like the private team in La Sabana – those are a different kind of kid, they’rewell-heeled,” he commented. “But I’m thinking of rural kids.”
Joining the Little League would be free, according to Towne. And once the equipment is out of Customs, there is plenty to go around. The Lions Club would provide the administrative structure. All Towne needs right now is $670 to get the ball rolling.
How to Help
Those wishing to make a donation can mail a check to Club de Leones Zurquí, attention Maria Hoffman, Apartado 190-3017, San Isidro de Heredia, Costa Rica, or deposit a donation directly into the Little League Fund, Banco Nacional account number 100-01042-332-7, reference: Club de Leones Béisbol. For more information on the project or on becoming a coach, contact Harry Towne at 268-4670 or [email protected], or call Maria Hoffman at 268-4646.