"Are you houseplant or field corn?" Jim Harbaugh asks at one point in a new documentary about his goodwill trip to South America. It's a nutty question, even by Harbaugh standards. But here, on the dirt floor of a poor neighborhood of Peru, the 49ers coach manages to pull off the metaphor.

Such glimpses into Harbaugh's live-wire brain provide the best part of "Peruball: Jim Harbaugh in South America,'' which debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Comcast Sports Net Bay Area.

In an otherwise languid documentary, Harbaugh perks things up with his strange, restless energy. He belts out the Michigan fight song (loudly, in English) to a group of seniors, talks smack to inanimate objects ("A piece of wood is not going to defeat me") and asks a group of children, "Who's got it better than us?"

There are a few poignant moments, too: Harbaugh breaks away from a fierce game of Peruball to sooth a crying boy who had lost his ball. The coach is surprisingly tender as he carries the boy away and helps him to a few sips of water.

"You can pretty much help people from the time you wake up her to the time you go to bed,'' Harbaugh says at one point.

To film "Peruball,'' CSNBA dispatched a crew led by broadcaster David Feldman and producer Sean Madison ("Out: The Glenn Burke Story") to follow the coach during his annual visit to Piura, a small town about 600 miles north of Lima. The camera captures shots of Harbaugh visiting orphanages, building houses, delivering food and teaching groups of kids how to play "Peruball" — a game of the coach's invention. It looks like the love child of football and rugby, although the rules remain elusive.


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Harbaugh has been making this trip since 2009, having learned about the mission trip through his friends at St. Raymond Catholic Church, his parish in Menlo Park.

This marked the first journey in which all of his kids came with him. And Harbaugh beams with pride as he watches Jay, James and Grace lugging around bags of rice or pounding nails.

"Growing up in Coronado, Atherton, Silicon Valley, it's very affluent. It's not real in some way,'' Harbaugh says. "To be able to see poverty ... It's hard to understand it until you see it face to face."

For additional air dates and times, visit www.csnbayarea.com