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Baseball becoming popular sport in Uganda

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Posted January 19, 2011 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Charity ~ 2,781 views

     


By PAUL POST | The Saratogian | MPIGI, Uganda – Some day this east-central African nation is going to send a player to the big leagues. It might take five years, 10 or even longer, but it will happen.

The laws of nature almost foretell it because the love today’s Ugandan young people have for baseball is too powerful not to result in something great. The sport was introduced here in 1994 and has really taken off the past few years thanks largely to the efforts of Richard Stanley who helped bring minor league baseball to Glens Falls in the early 1980s.

While U.S baseball fans anxiously await the start of spring training, right now more than 60 boys and girls, ages 10 to 16, are taking part in a two week baseball camp here led by coaches in Major League Baseball’s international envoy program.

“It takes a while for change to finally come around,” said Global Coordinator Pat Doyle, a former Red Sox minor league pitcher and U.S. National Team assistant coach. “There should eventually be an African representative to the Little League World Series. How you wade through the swamp to get there is the question.”

Canadian baseball coach Sam Dempster teaches Ugandan baseball players during a two week camp in Mpiji, near Kampala, the nation's capital. (PAUL POST/The Saratogian)

Last summer, Uganda sent a team to the Middle East Regional Tournament and narrowly missed a chance to reach Williamsport, Pa., where the Little League World Series is played. Perennial power house Saudi Arabia, stocked with children of American parents, won the tourney on a highly controversial rules interpretation. Stanley would like to send a team back there to exact revenge, but it would cost another $35,000 and there’s a great deal of work still be done at this complex.

Several years ago, Stanley began carving fields out of a pristine 40-acre tract of land about 15 miles west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Two Little League/softball size fields already exist and two full-size fields have been cleared and graded and are just awaiting grass planting.

Stanley’s ultimate dream is to establish a school for 1,500 students who would have to be committed to academics and sports.

“It’ll take about $3.5 million to do everything we want,” he said.

He first started coming to Uganda, the “Pearl of Africa,” under a United Nations economic development program. When they learned about his strong background in baseball, officials asked him to help the game take root.

Doyle and co-worker Sam Dempster of Ontario, Great Britain’s national team head coach, have taught finer points of the game all over Europe, the Mid-East and Africa.

“It is a business, too. We’re looking for our Yao Ming,” said Doyle, referencing the impact China’s top basketball player has had on the NBA.

Doyle and Dempster are not only training players, but coaches, too, because they’re the ones needed to help the game spread throughout the nation.

Kids get to the field early and stay almost until the sun goes down, around 7 p.m. Mpigi, as the crow flies, is less than 10 miles north of the equator, which runs through the northern end of Lake Victoria, Uganda’s southern border. Today, temperatures were in the mid-80s with a mild breeze that kept humidity away.

Kids got a big kick out of seeing pictures from back home, shoveling snow in upstate New York, a 7,500-mile flight from New York to London, and from there to Kampala.

“It’s a nice day for baseball in Uganda,” Doyle tells kids, as they get ready to charge out on the diamond for drills and conditioning.

They soak up everything he and Dempster tell them, like sponges.

“Yes coach” is the standard reply to every bit of instruction.

One of the helpers is Colin Casey, a Peace Corps worker, originally from Gainesville, Fla. He’s in Uganda to do civil engineering, helping build rudimentary water and sanitation systems. Recently, he noticed a sign on the Kampala-Masaka Road, and volunteered to help with the two-week baseball camp.

Hard as it might be to believe, the Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It’s heartening to know that young Americans are still carrying out John F. Kennedy’s vision, which began with his inauguration 50 years ago this month.

It took less than a decade for the U.S. to achieve of his goal of putting a man on the moon. Helping the people of underdeveloped nations such as this one is a never-ending work.

A lot of it has to do with priorities.A young coach named Aaron asked about Yankee Stadium.

“They have a new one, right?”

“Yup.”

“What is the status of the old one?”

“It’s gone.”

Quite a few kids here don’t even wear shoes, yet they run the basepaths with wild abandon, hustling out every ground ball with intensity and enthusiasm.

How do you explain to someone like that why the Yankees needed a new $1 billion ballpark?

Uganda is eight hours ahead of the eastern U.S. Right now, kids are watching a documentary movie, still under production, about Ugandan baseball and last summer’s trip to the Middle East Regional Tournament. Filmmaker Jay Shapiro hopes to have the finished product done this fall and there’s a good chance it will have a national audience.

Then the rest of the world will have a chance to see what’s going on here.

Like Opening Day, I can’t wait.


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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