Looks like the American Pastime Sport may not die out after all. Africa may provide an entirely new market wich revitalizes the sport.
KAMPALA, Uganda – Unlike in most of Africa, soccer is not the top sport at the Rev. John Foundation School in Uganda’s capital. Instead, a fairly foreign American game is No. 1 and catching on quickly.
“Baseball is our main game here,” head teacher Emmanuel Bazannye said of his school. “Even the girls love it. The girls want to participate after seeing the boys doing it. We say that what the boys can do, even the girls can do.”
Baseball is not widely played in Africa, but Uganda looks poised to be the launching pad for the game’s entry into this soccer-dominated continent.
Last year a team of young Ugandan ballers made international news in heartbreaking fashion. They qualified for the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., but were denied travel visas by the U.S. State Department because of a lack of documentation.
“We cried for two good days,” said George Mukhobe, the coach who would have led the team to America. “It meant a lot for those kids.”
Augustus Owinyi was the team’s first baseman. Although now too old for Little League, he still shows up during practices, pleasing coaches who see it as a sign of his commitment.
Owinyi wants to be like Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The 13-year-old Owinyi met Rollins when the American visited Uganda in January and that memory makes him dream of playing Major League Baseball someday. His hopes for a career in baseball made the State Department’s visa denial especially painful.
“I felt very sad,” he said. “They gave us back our passports and said we were not to go. Some of us cried. I love this game. I see my future in this game.”
Ugandan sports followers say the school’s success in international competition has contributed to baseball’s popularity among schools that once were skeptical about the American game.
The school is preparing for a national baseball competition, where the winner will travel to Poland in July. It’s the first international opportunity for Ugandan youngsters following the failure to go to the Little League World Series.
The visa refusal spawned a wave of sympathy, but also inspired a fundraising drive that raised enough money to bring to Uganda a team from Canada that the Ugandans would have faced if they had competed in South Williamsport.
In January, the Ugandans beat the Canadians 2-1. Coach Mukhobe said that the win was more proof that Uganda had baseball talent.
Baseball still lags behind soccer across Uganda. But it’s catching on among schools attracted to its relative novelty and the government now backs the game’s introduction in schools.
About 60 schools encourage baseball, Mukhobe said, and this year a national baseball league was launched after it was endorsed by sports authorities. The baseball season started in mid-March.