How baseball helped one international student stay at the top of his game [photos]

How baseball helped one international student stay at the top of his game [photos]

June 13th, 2018 by Sunny Montgomery in Local Regional News

Gallery: How baseball helped one international student stay at the top of his game

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Red Bank High School valedictorian Shikhar Baheti poses for a portrait in the Times Free Press studio on Thursday, May 17, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Red Bank High School valedictorian Shikhar Baheti poses...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

From an early age, Shikhar Baheti, 17, has tried to balance his drive to succeed at school with his love of sports.

He was born and raised in North India, where he attended a private grade school, focusing his studies on physics, chemistry and math.

"The academic system in India was very rigorous. Everything depended on your studies. There was a lot of pressure," Baheti said. But he still managed to find some leisure time.

"Cricket was my sport back in India," said Baheti, who started playing the bat-and-ball game in his backyard at age 10.

When Baheti was 14, his family relocated to Tennessee after his father, a software engineer, was transferred within his company. Baheti was enrolled in Red Bank High School. At first, he said, he struggled to acclimate to his new culture.

"One of the first differences I saw was that Americans drive a lot. We depend on our cars. In India, we took buses and trains to get around," he said. The language barrier also posed a challenge — and so did the absence of cricket, a sport that never gained much popularity in the United States.

"Cricket was a big part of my life," he said. "Culturally, it represents my background."

Seeking to fill the void, Baheti decided to sign up for Red Bank's baseball team. He chose the sport for two reasons. First, it resembled cricket, with innings, bats and balls. Second, it was considered America's favorite pastime, and Baheti longed to embrace his new country.

But he soon learned that would require more than just joining a team.

"I showed up to my first practice without a glove because I didn't know anything about it. But persistence makes you better. I have made a lot of errors, but that doesn't mean I'm a bad player. It just means there is room for improvement," Baheti said.

If cricket symbolized India to Baheti, then baseball soon came to symbolize America. Though the sports share similarities, there are key differences.

"I had to make changes — both in the game and life," Baheti said.

For starters, Baheti had to learn to be more social. In India, academics had been everything. But Americans, he learned, value both studies and sports. Moreover, India's curriculum had often emphasized independent thinking over collaborative effort.

"We didn't have group projects. But in America, we do a lot. I had to learn to face that. I was scared and nervous talking to others. I had social anxiety, but baseball helped increase my social skills. Baseball is how I made all of my friends," he said.

After graduating from Red Bank High, Baheti is no longer on a formal baseball team. But, he said, "Whenever I am fortunate enough to get play baseball again, I will."

In the meantime, he plans to focus all his attention on his studies.

This August, he will attend Texas A&M University, where he plans to study aerospace or mechanical engineering.

"I've always been fascinated by how computers and machines work, because of my father's work. I hope to one day find myself traveling to different countries, making robots and space shuttles," he said.

Contact staff writer Sunny Montgomery at smontgomery@timesfreepress.com.