The ground was more sand than grass, a little uneven in places. But it was a recognisable slice of American sporting culture - a baseball field, tucked away behind a high school building near the old battlefields of central Vietnam. Several hundred Vietnamese students stood in rows on the field, dressed in brand-new blue and red baseball shirts. Dozens of government and party officials milled around a lectern, waiting for the ceremony to start. Women dressed in silky-white ao dai lined the path to the field to greet the foreign visitors, each clutching a red rose wrapped in plastic. America's favourite pastime had arrived in Vietnam, three decades after the fall of Saigon, thanks to a group of American war veterans who decided to bring baseball to Vietnamese youth. Unlike football, which has found a global audience, baseball is a minority taste. Outside of the US, only a handful of countries have professional leagues, among them Japan, Taiwan and Cuba. Almost unknown in Vietnam, baseball is an exotic foreign import. Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, smiled as he walked onto the field. A decorated war veteran, last year he persuaded America's major baseball league and equipment suppliers to sponsor a goodwill tour and the construction of Vietnam's first baseball field, with a price tag of nearly US$50,000. The dedication of the field was the culmination of months of preparation. Mr Scruggs took his turn at the lectern, gazing into the eager faces of the students and other curious onlookers. His was the face of a former soldier trying to bring hope to a country almost crushed by the might of the US. 'Here is an opportunity for us to really turn a battlefield into a field of dreams,' he said. Dong Ha is a former US marine base in Quang Tri province, near to the demilitarised zone that was once the border between North and South Vietnam. Later as the North Vietnamese encroached on the territory, the field was subject to relentless US bombing which left many parts of the countryside littered with unexploded ordnance. Last year, the builders dug up the school field to level the ground and improve the drainage. In the process, they removed several bomb shells, mortars and other ordnance. It is a reminder of the dangers faced by millions of Vietnamese who risk being killed or maimed by old bombs. The most common scenario is a farmer dragging a hoe through a field, or a child playing with a rusty object that turns out to be a bomb. Many injuries are fatal because poor rural communities lack access to medical care and few ambulances ply the rutted highways of Quang Tri. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of unexploded ordnance lies buried in Vietnam. Since 2000, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has raised millions of dollars for mine clearance and education campaigns in Quang Tri, and runs its projects from a small office in Dong Ha. From this charity work grew the idea of bringing baseball to Vietnam, of sharing an all-American pastime. 'All around the world people find this sport is a great way to reach out to other people,' said Mr Scruggs. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the field was cleared for a two-hour training session led by US baseball professionals who had travelled to Vietnam for the event. A hand-picked group of around 100 male and female students were taught how to throw, pitch and bat. School officials say they plan to include baseball as an optional class on the curriculum and use training videos to improve their skills. 'We've got the basic training and the basic techniques. This means we can continue with baseball at the school,' said Ly Ngoc Thanh, a sports teacher. Out on the field, Danny Graves, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, showed the children how to throw a fast ball. 'Yes, good, that's great,' he enthused, as the students hurled the ball down the field. 'I like this game,' one 17-year-old student said, as he waited for his turn. 'It's fast and I can use my strength and my speed.' He normally plays football, but has seen baseball on TV and says it would be a fun game. For Graves, it was an emotional day. Born in Saigon and raised in Florida, he is the only Vietnamese-American player in major league baseball. This was his first trip back in 31 years, and he was rediscovering his roots. His mother was also making her first trip back. She met his father at the American embassy in Saigon and they left before the war ended. 'I definitely feel like I'm really from here now ... before the only thing I knew is what's on TV. Now being here and seeing the people and how they live, I feel like I'm part of Vietnam,' he said.