‘Bóng chày' a hit in Vietnam

Medina resident Phil Rognier brought the game of baseball to Vietnam as part of a 16-day trip to the country to teach the basics of the game.

When Bellevue's Phil Rognier traveled to Vietnam to teach the game of baseball (or bóng chày) he found one surprising fact.

It was much easier than teaching American kids.

“They didn't have their parents telling them what to do,” Rognier said. “Over there, they'd just listen. When we'd go outside, they'd do it the way I showed them, and five minutes later, they're doing it right and having fun.”

From April 4 through the 18th, Rognier, 66 and a long-time area coach, taught the game of baseball to children and young men of all ages in the Hanoi and its surrounding neighborhoods, utilizing the same fundamentals he teaches through his Firstswing Foundation, a non-profit based in Bellevue.

The whole Vietnam trip began, Rognier said, because of a simple email sent from 24-year-old Hung Chauquoc, a graduate student at the University of Hanoi. Chauquoc sent an email to Major League Baseball regarding his thesis about bringing the game to Vietnam. Rognier eventually received the email through his connection to Brian Sloan, the general manager of the Everett Aquasox. It seemed a perfect fit for his foundation, which teaches life lessons through baseball.

It didn't take long to get things moving. Rognier was quickly set up with a teaching position in the sociology department at the University of Hanoi, and away things went. Rognier would teach part of the day, and spend the rest teaching the game of baseball to the University's baseball club (formed by Chauquoc) as well as putting on camps and programs to more than 200 kids.

“What I found out is that they didn't know anything about the game,” Rognier said. “But these kids were just like kids from Medina, from Edmonds, from Spokane; they just want to play the game and have fun.”

Three major universities, four secondary schools and a number of elementary and junior high schools took part in the champs, as well as unofficial baseball clubs like the University of Hanoi, the Hanoi Baseball Club, the Amsterdam School team and members from the United Nations International School.

“Some of the things I talked about with them was geared towards critical thinking and problem solving; it wasn't just about baseball, but teaching people to be good citizens,” Rognier said. “We talked a lot about baseball diplomacy. We care about them being productive members of society.”

Rognier's programs were translated into Vietnamese, although many of the children had a basic understanding of the English language. By the time Rognier left, the youths, who had no prior knowledge of baseball, were playing games.

“When they see how much fun this game is...they just want to have a good time,” Rognier said. “To me, it was a field day the whole time.”

Many teams were formed as a result of the trip, Rognier said, including the a team that will play in an international tournament in Indonesia next month thanks to a partnership between FirstSwing and the Hanoi Baseball Club. Hanoi has also applied for an official Little League charter.

“To me, the trip was eye-opening,” Rognier said. “Baseball might not change the world, but it can change a kids life.”