Sergey Brin's immigrant story is as American as, well, batting .350

Some have said baseball holds the answers to life's mysteries. But Google (GOOG) co-founder Sergey Brin seemed baffled by John Battelle's baseball metaphor during Brin's "surprise" visit to the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco last week. Battelle mentioned the oft-heard complaint that Google is trying to do "too much" and is venturing too far afield from its core search ad competency. So, Battelle asked Brin if Google was trying to swing at many different pitches hoping to bat .350, which is excellent, and would win Major League Baseball's batting title in most years.

According to a report by VentureBeat, "Brin said he isn't familiar with baseball." Battelle explained that it means getting a hit in 35 percent of a player's at-bats, and Brin answered, "I hope we fare better than that."
Brin can be forgiven for his lack of baseball knowledge -- he is after all, Russian. (Also, hitting a round baseball traveling at 90 mph with a round bat is so difficult that even the best in the world succeed only about one-third of the time.)

Brin was born in Moscow in August 1973 to Michael and Eugenia Brin, who had both attended Moscow State University. The family arrived in the U.S. 30 years ago today, when Sergey was six. His father became a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland. His mother is a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of his family's immigration, Brin has given $1 million to the the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, which "helped his family escape anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and establish itself here," as The New York Times describes. "HIAS, which helped the family navigate the cumbersome process of leaving the Soviet Union for the United States, paid for tickets, gave them money and helped them apply for visas, received the largest amount," the paper says.

"I would have never had the kinds of opportunities I've had here in the Soviet Union, or even in Russia today," Mr. Brin told Stephanie Strom. "I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that's what this organization does."

It's true that $1 million isn't even a rounding error of Brin's personal wealth of some $16 billion to $20 billion -- depending on the market's valuation of Google shares on any given day -- but he says it "signals" a growing commitment to philanthropy.

The Times notes that the Brins have been most generous to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and other research organizations involved in the fight against Parkinson's disease.

Brin's mother told the paper that the family had lost touch with the immigrant aid group. "Although they gave us tremendous help, we didn't stay connected with HIAS," Eugenia Brin said. "Then a few years ago, I guess because of Google, we got a call from HIAS asking if we could help them digitize their archives."

Brin 's mother eventually joined the group's board, helping to start a social networking site,, aimed at connecting Russian-Jewish and other American immigrants to share their stories and help network.

"One of the most important things that Sergey Brin's gift signifies, not just for HIAS but more importantly for the nation," Gideon Aronoff, chief executive of HIAS, told the paper, "is the possibilities inherent in being a refugee. The debate over immigration has frequently become so bitter that an important element has been lost: Refugees are as varied in their skills sets and contributions as the rest of us."

While many Americans are gearing up for the World Series, Sergey Brin may not know what hitting .350 means. But he knows what being a member of an immigrant family means -- and that's something that virtually every American -- somewhere down the line -- should relate to.

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