Former Anderson University baseball coach Don Brandon once told his players that if they weren’t passionate about the game, he would be on their backs like a mongoose on a cobra. After coaching for 38 years at AU, Brandon's legacy runs deeper than baseball. His passion and love for the game are trumped only by his love for people. “Obviously I love people,” said Brandon. “And I’m a firm believer that people know you’re a Christian by your love.” This love for others is now taking the 71-year-old to Nairobi, Kenya, on a mission trip in late November to teach the game of baseball.
Less than two years removed from open-heart surgery, Brandon has mustered both the energy and ambition to cross the Atlantic to bring together his two greatest loves — people and baseball — and impact the lives of young Kenyans. “It’s my understanding that they know very little about baseball,” said Brandon.
Brandon will begin his trip by teaching a group of 60 youth coaches for the first two days. He will then work with children in Nairobi for the rest of his stay. When he introduces the game to the coaches and children, Brandon intends to focus on the big picture of the game. Such a reversion to basics may be a challenge to a man who spent the last 38 years of his life teaching intricate techniques to competitive college baseball players.
“We’ll have to start by telling them that you swing a bat from the small end, not the big end,” said Brandon.
Brandon does not expect to struggle with a language barrier. The schools in Kenya teach English to children from a young age, and most adults are also familiar with the language. Moreover, Brandon anticipates communication to be relatively easy because it will be through the sport of baseball.
“Sports are a universal language,” said Brandon. “I may have to learn about cricket, though, so I can communicate baseball to them.”
The facilities where Brandon will teach the game are a sharp contrast from what the coach is used to. “We’ll probably hit ground balls on fields that have glass on them,” Brandon said. Hoping to find clear, unadulterated fields of grass and dirt will be a struggle. The country offers no semblance of baseball diamonds or fields that have ever hosted the American pastime. To avoid injuries on such unpredictable surfaces and fields, and because the children will not all have appropriate gloves, Brandon will have an ample supply of “rag balls” with him that are soft and pose very little physical danger.
Baseball captures the hearts of Americans young and old not only because of its tradition and history, but, at a more basic level, the game is fun. Brandon understands this and recognizes the importance of teaching while also making sure it is enjoyable for the children.
“If you’re introducing a game to someone, then they have to have a smile on their face. They need to have fun,” said Brandon. “The children don’t have an intrinsic motivation. If they’re not having fun, they’re done.”
When Brandon was coaching at Anderson University, his love for the game extended to the field itself. On more than one occasion he would work on the field under the stars, aided only by the headlights of his truck. Brandon will take this tireless devotion to Africa and use the sport of baseball as a vehicle to impact the lives of children in Nairobi. While he’s taught the game to thousands of children during his lifetime, the children of Kenya may be the ones who make the biggest impact of all on him.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.