Most collegiate baseball players spend their summers playing 40-50 games in various amateur leagues across the country to improve their skills for the upcoming collegiate season. Matt Karo ’18SEAS, one of the Lions’ catchers, had a different and unique opportunity in Summer 2017.

In the fall of 2016, the Chemical Engineering Major and Biomedical Engineering Minor was approached by his coaches to spend six weeks in China to work for Major League Baseball.

“At the time, my goal was still to play summer ball somewhere,” Karo said. “But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity I needed to look into. (Head coach Brett Boretti) and (assistant coach Dan Tischler), who is in charge of summer placements, both really vouched for me with MLB and I am very appreciative of their support.”

From June 22-August 14, Karo traveled to six different cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Guongzhou, Changzhou) working at learning centers, similar to what Major League Baseball has previously organized in the Dominican Republic, working with schools and local businesses to develop a baseball culture and increase the popularity of the sport. 

Karo coached approximately 70 children, teaching them the ins-and-outs of baseball and about western culture.

Coming from Southern California, Karo admitted that the ability to play baseball year-round was something he took for granted. However, spending time on the grass-roots level was eye-opening.

“These kids had never played baseball before,” commented Karo. “The first two days, they could not really catch the ball or execute the fundamentals. By the end of the time, we were playing games and they are getting hits and doing things we never would have believe after the way we started. It was an amazing level of transformation and improvement with these kids.”

“You got to see first-hand that your work and effort really did pay off where their parents are still texting me asking how I’m doing and thanking me again. They were so thankful to have the opportunity to learn.”

Karo attributed the short learning curve to a competitive Chinese culture, much like here in the United States.

“Once we made every part of the day a competition, they loved it,” said Karo. “We wanted them to have fun, but instill this competitive drive with them. That was when we noticed the most improvement. When we got into real games, they were focused and concentrating in those pressure situations.”

Additionally, the internship provided Karo a unique look at China that many visitors would not experience. From finding hidden gem restaurants to walking the Great Wall and visiting the Forbidden Palace, Karo took full advantage of the opportunity.

“The most memorable experience I've had was seeing the Great Wall,” Karo reported via email in July. “The portion of the wall we saw was never refurbished so the stones were between 600-700 years old. We hiked over three miles along it and we got to take some amazing photos. We then ate one of the best meals I've had in China in a restaurant that was in the middle of a lotus pond with views of the wall itself.”

Karo’s experience, while unique among his teammates, is indicative of the incredible opportunities available to Columbia’s student-athletes. Because of Columbia’s location in New York City, many Lions are able to develop and maintain internship and job placement opportunities with organizations in myriad professional fields. All five major professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS) have headquarters in New York City.

“I’m so lucky to be a Columbia student-athlete and be around such great coaches. I felt like this would be an opportunity to give back to the baseball community to kids who haven’t had the same upbringing in baseball.”