LAKE FOREST/LAKE BLUFF — On a family trip to Colombia in late November, Sheridan Elementary School fourth grader Charlie Melin of Lake Forest learned that much of the language of baseball is universal.
Playing second base in a game in Medellin on that journey, Melin, who knows little Spanish, said hand signals are the same there as they are when he plays games in the Lake Bluff Youth Baseball Association. He also had no trouble lining up a cut off play from right field.
“It was really awesome,” said Charlie Melin. “You just have to know how to play the game,” he added showing outstretched arms for safe at a base, holding up his index and pinky fingers to show the sign for two outs and circling his hand demonstrating a home run signal.
Melin also learned there is a huge resource gap between what youngsters in Latin America have when they play baseball and what he is accustomed to in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest. He also got a chance to do something about it.
The mission of the Melin’s family trip to Colombia from November 17 to November 30 was in part an effort to improve the youth baseball resources in Medellin in Bogota, according to Philippe Melin, Charlie’s father. It was also part professional for Molly Melin, Charlie’s mother and a political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago.
Philippe Melin said he worked with the Lake Bluff Youth Baseball Association community and beyond to gather donations of gear whether it was gently used or new from money raised to purchase equipment.
Lots of Baseball Equipment Heads to Colombia
Connecting with Project Beisbol, Philippe Melin found an organization promoting youth baseball in Colombia eager to receive anything the Melins were able to bring. He said they packed up approximately 300 baseballs, 75 bats, 45 mitts and other assorted equipment used to play the game like cleats, batting gloves and protective gear.
“We reached out to people we know in Lake Bluff to donate,” said Philippe Melin. “We reached out to friends and family outside of youth baseball. Baseballs cost between $3 and $5 here but in Colombia they are $10.”
Justin Halladay, the president and founder of Project baseball, said baseballs are more expensive in Colombia not only because they are imported but the demand is much less than in the United States. That means no quantity discounts.
In a country where soccer is the most popular sport, Halladay said interest in baseball is growing He also said the equipment the Melin family brought to Colombia has 200 youngsters able to play organized baseball who could not before.
“The impact of the equipment the Melin family brought was huge, benefiting over 200 (kids) in four cities,” said Halladay in an email. “The leaders are there, interest is there, they just don’t have the resources to buy supplies on the local level and the sport fails as a result.”
Philippe Melin said his family got the idea of bringing baseball equipment to Colombia after a trip the year before to Cuba. Molly Melin had a conference there at the time. While she was working, Philippe Melin, Charlie Melin and Maizy Melin, a Sheridan first grader, watched some youngsters play baseball. Charlie got to play.
“They had one ball and one bat,” said Philippe Melin. “They had to share a mitt. We gave them a ball.”
Melin Family Becomes Baseball Ambassadors
After Molly Melin made arrangements to participate in a professional conference in Colombia in November, Philippe Melin decided to make his family baseball ambassadors. He did some research and reached out to Halladay.
There was more than baseball Philippe Melin said he noticed in Medellin. He said the area where they watched Charlie Melin play with local youngsters was a violent one just a few years ago, in part because of the drug trafficking around the area. There were still signs.
“There were still bullet holes in the buildings,” said Philippe Melin. “Parents were afraid to send their kids to school. Four years ago they felt it was safe enough for baseball to return.”
Molly Melin said watching her son play in the game in Medellin was different from the contests she watched when he competes in Lake Bluff.
“You really have to pay attention because there is no fence between the field and where we were sitting,” said Molly Melin.
“It made us feel pretty lucky about what we have in Lake Bluff,” Philippe Melin added.