I am watching Little Leaguer Justine Makisimu, of Lugazi, Uganda, warm up on television before he and his teammates from Africa play their and their country’s first-ever World Series game at South Williamsport, Pa.
I feel pretty sad.
Or maybe ignorant.
No, I have narrowed it down... ashamed.
How could I not?
Last week I took my $110 Brooks GTX H2O PROOF GORE-TEX with HEELCRADLE, FLEXTRA sole fronts and ASR support sole backs, to the Dumpster.
They were worn.
Not with holes or rips. Just worn. Just over 1 year old.
I kept the GORE-TEX laces.
My first sports shoes were white canvas high-top Converse. For $16, they had to last all year.
Some Ugandan boys might not see $16 in their lifetime.
Growing up, if my family could have afforded the cost of LeBron James’ new sneakers hitting the market today, at $369, I probably would have had more than one pair of the flexible Converse Cans a year, and my father would not have spent his whole life working to get shoes for seven kids.
The rationale is the rising labor costs in China.
Our All-everything, American, Olympian success story from the streets, NBA champion has his shoes made in China.
That could build a house in Uganda.
Uganda’s Daniel Alio rides his bike 30-minutes to school each day.
On the return trip home, he is in charge of bringing water to his mother.
He pedals in bare feet.
I wonder how many pairs of XtraTufs I have thrown in trash bins around the various fishing yards during my years as a deck hand.
At least enough to make pedal pads for a too-small bike in Uganda.
The Lugazi, Uganda, Little League team is warming up at the Little League World Series.
Eleven-year-old Ronald Olaa has one shoe on and one shoe off as he fields ground balls, pivots and makes plays to first base.
Over the course of this past week he has become comfortable enough to wear one shoe.
Shoes feel different to Ugandan boys who have never had them before.
The entire Ugandan Little League team (just as other teams attending) were given shoes, bats, gloves and assorted other gear for making the “Show.”
Sometimes between at bats and in the field plays they remove their shoes in the dugout.
It would be nice to watch them play the game in front of the television cameras as they would prefer, in bare feet, comfortable on the dirt and grass, running the bases with abandon, under the cooler sun than their home.
Think of that.
These boys have not had flap jacks, ice cream or barbeque hamburger (they cannot come to call it sloppy joes).
The Ugandan boys won their last game on Tuesday. They defeated Gresham, Ore. 3-2. It is the first win ever for a team from Africa.
Watching them embrace each other, and being embraced by their Oregon counterparts who go through multiple pairs of shoes each year, is emotional.
They have made many friends.
Other teams want to play them and “Friendship” games are being organized.
While other teams players combine shopping for school in the Williamsport trip, the boys from Africa buy next to nothing. Their trip, however, will be priceless.
Some are orphans, some have just one parent alive, all have smiles bigger than the strike zone.
They are heroes to a country 7,234 miles away.
They are heroes to everyone represented at Williamsport.
According to Little League officials numerous entities have offered equipment, money, clothes and trips to coach in Africa.
Donated items have been so great that Little League and Pitch In For Baseball are working together to deliver them to Uganda.
The boys of Lugazi Little League are all 11 years old. Hopefully they will be back next year at age 12.
“This is Africa glory,” Uganda manager Henry Odong said. “We are already champions for being here.”
In Uganda, boys have waterproof, shock absorbant, all terrain XtraTufs.
They are called feet.
I could have put a pair of year old shoes on someone’s feet in Africa...
Without spending $369 dollars...
And without being ashamed.