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The sordid travels of a Cubs fan: Budapest Reds

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BCB’s Danny Rockett found baseball and new friends in Eastern Europe.

Budapest Reds clubhouse
Danny Rockett

The Cubs are mostly All-Star breaking, so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to share a baseball experience I had recently with the Budapest Reds.

In June, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Budapest, Hungary rehearsing for the tour of Trapdoor Theatre’s Production of “How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients” for which I won Chicago’s Jeff Award for Sound Design last year. The show opened at the Puppet Theatre in Budapest, and when the cast left me to continue touring Romania, I went in search of some Budapest baseball and found the Budapest Reds.

Don’t fret, Cubs fans! They’re only called “Reds” because one of the founders name is Piros, which means “Red” in Hungarian.

I missed baseball while in Budapest, with most Cubs games starting in the middle of the night. So even though I was riddled with food poisoning from some $2 street shawarma, I took some Imodium and a taxi 20 dollars east of downtown Budapest to where the Budapest Reds play and practice. The cabbie wasn’t sure where to drop me off, but using my 200 MB of roaming data to keep an eye on the driver to not to get ripped off (again), I was pretty certain I was close to the field. I followed my baseball Spidey senses until spying a path through this emerald field where at the end was to be found baseball.

Path to baseball
Danny Rockett
Reds bleachers
Danny Rockett

I had come a bit late due to my shawarma-sickened state, and the Budapest Reds were just finishing practice, with some stragglers working on batting and pitching. While the founder, former player and groundskeeper Szabolcs Piros (Red) worked on maintaining the baseball field.

Szabolcs Piros
Danny Rockett
Danny Rockett
Danny Rockett

I met up with Balasz Halmos, who I had contacted via the Budapest Reds Facebook page. Balasz is a warm and friendly middle infielder who showed me around their ballpark while relating the history of Reds baseball in Budapest. He kind of reminds me of Dustin Pedroia. (Balasz is on the left below)

Balasz Halmos and Braden Lee

Pictured are Hungarian Balasz Halmos with American pitcher and manager Braden Lee who hails from Minnesota. Braden has come to Budapest to help the Reds build their organization, which began nearly 25 years ago.

Here is the backstory from the founder: “The original team was founded in a nearby town, Szentendre, in 1993 by a couple of high school students including Balazs Nemeth, one of our infielders and myself. The team changed location and moved to Budapest in 2014. The following year the original team, Szentendre Sleepwalkers and the Budapest Reds team merged. The latter was founded by Szabolcs Piros (a former Szentendre player) and his wife. In the beginning the Reds only had little league teams, but due to the merger since 2015 they have also had two senior teams and a softball team. Szabolcs is also responsible for organizing field maintenance.”

The Budapest Reds senior teams play tournaments in Europe and develop players from all over the world. Not only is their manager Braden Lee American, but I also met Carlos Rubio, a third baseman from Mexico, who boasted about the team building themselves by courting players from everywhere to play and coach. Baseball is truly becoming an international sport and the Budapest Reds are an international team whose commitment to baseball in a country where water polo is more popular, is helping spread our game further afield.

But it isn’t easy. These players are riding the bus over borders for thousands of kilometers to find competition. And they do it on a shoestring budget. To help them reach their goals of improving and expanding, they are constantly searching for the sponsorship opportunities such as Hungarian soccer players have, but I also thought would it a great idea to have Cubs fans adopt a team like the Budapest Reds to keep them in equipment and tournament gas money. Maybe I’ll hold a benefit someday to be a part of a winner. Look at all the hardware!

Budapest Reds trophies
Danny Rockett

As the sun set and the shawarma rumbled, it was taxi time to town. But Balasz kindly offered me a ride with Carlos and Braden who gave some last minute batting stance tips to a player and a few high fives on the way to the car.

Braden Lee works on a swing
Danny Rockett
Balazs high-fives!
Danny Rockett

We piled in the car, #selfied and talked about the Cubs’ World Series win and how they had all been pulling for us in the early morning out here in Budapest. Pitcher/Manager Braden Lee even knows Justin Grimm! I was struck by the smallness of the world and the rich community building nature of our sport. “A Hungarian, two Americans and a Mexican get into a car in Budapest...” It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not. It’s just what baseball can do.

Budapest Reds Selfie
Danny Rockett

Balazs dropped us all off a few blocks from my Airbnb and Carlos Rubio jumped on a train. Braden Lee’s apartment was only a few blocks from mine, so we headed off in the same direction. We bantered more baseball on a street corner for a bit. And as the city lights took over from the sun we said farewell and good luck and I headed back towards my apartment which I got to just in time.

Here are some more photos of the Budapest Reds facilities and players. (Shawarma not pictured!)