MYERSVILLE — A semi-regular tradition in local youth baseball remains alive today thanks to the efforts of a Middletown Valley-area businessman and the community’s close-knit baseball family.
Several times over the past few years, Harold Routzahn has arranged for a Russian youth baseball team’s trip to the United States for games against area teams. This week, a Russian team is making its rounds in the region, including stops in Myersville and Frederick.
The Russian team, consisting of players 11 years old and younger, played the Harmony Highlanders, an 11-under squad from the Mountain Valley baseball league, in an informal game Sunday at Doub Meadows Park.
It’s one stop as part of a week-long schedule in the county for the Russian team. For many of the local athletes, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against athletes from another country in the game commonly referred to in the U.S. as America’s Pastime.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a good experience with these players,” said Keller Routzahn, 10, a member of the Highlanders. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Russian team, managed by Gladnivov Pavel brought seven players to the U.S. Harold Routzahn didn’t hesitate to offer some Highlanders players to help fill out the Russian roster for Sunday’s game, which included his grandson, Keller.
Keller, along with three of his teammates, moved over to the Russian dugout. None of the Russian players spoke English, but the skill levels were common to everyone in both dugouts.
“This is one cool event,” Highlanders shortstop-outfielder Stephen Stottlemyer said. “It’s different, but I like it.”
This Russian-Frederick County baseball exchange is more than 30 years old. Former county baseball manager and coach Paul Merrill first arranged a Russian visit, Harold Routzahn said. Through his many contacts, Merrill got the necessary government approvals for the team to travel to the U.S. for a mini-tour.
Routzahn, owner of Middletown Sportsland, also developed a friendship with Pavel, who has visited Routzahn on a semi-regular basis over the past 30 years.
Baseball in Russia has grown in popularity over the years. “We started out with small club groups in the Moscow area,” Pavel said. “The sport has been growing fast in Russia ever since.”
There are now many different age-group teams in all parts of Russia. “We coach players from very young children, right through to adults,” Pavel said.
He said one area in Russia began with seven teams, but the number soon was up to 25, with a more current number of 65 teams now reported, Pavel said. “We now have a new adult league started,” he said. “The interest in baseball in Russia continues to grow.”
When Pavel said the Russian teams needed help getting equipment, Routzahn provided assistance through his business.
“Baseballs, pitching machines, bats, gloves, uniforms, home plates, bases ... we wanted to help out all we could,” he said.
During Sunday’s game, no formal score was kept. Routzahn said there was a continuous batting order in place for both teams, to make sure every player on both sides got into the game.
“No pressure, just go out and have some fun. That’s the most important thing,” he said.
The Russian team is also scheduled to play against Frederick National Little League on Thursday. The team returns to Moscow on April 17.