When I was 6 years old, I suited up for my first little league baseball game. I’ll never forget it. My jersey was green with white trim on the collar and sleeves. My number was 6 and there was absolutely nothing better to me than getting my pants as covered in dirt as humanly possible. Win or lose, playing baseball was a time in my childhood that I will never forget.
When we were living in Yokohama, I went on a run and stumbled upon a team of 8 or 9 year old kids practicing before a game. They were running sliding drills. I must have stood by that fence for a good half hour watching each one of them tear into the dirt as best they could only to compare stains later as they got back in line. Little League, just as any organized team sport is a special opportunity to be a part of when you are young. Learning to work together, having fun and doing your best builds a foundation for young people that goes beyond the field and far beyond their youth.
It’ s almost easy to forget or be just plain naive to the fact that this is not an opportunity seen by children all over the world. This was brought to my attention earlier today when I caught a few minutes of a BBC clip covering the participation of a team from Uganda in this years Little League World Series in Williamsburg, PA.
The team had been founded in 2003 by a former Proctor and Gamble exec who had been offered an opportunity in Uganda after his retirement to work on a vegetable oil development project. When approached to help start a baseball program a year later, Richard Stanley agreed under the terms that the government would help build fields and not impose taxes and duties on donations from other countries. During an interview in the segment, Stanley spoke about how the kids would play for hours and not ask for food or drinks….they just wanted to play.
Over the next 9 years, through generous donations from several organizations and donors, little league baseball in Uganda became a reality. During those 9 years, Major League Baseball has donated large amounts of equipment, including special packages during Christmas of gloves and bats. Major league player Jimmy Rollins donated $10,000 from his foundation to aid in trip expenses to help the team get to Pennsylvania to take part in the the LLWS tournament this year.
“They love the game in a way we’ve almost forgotten.” — Jimmy Rollins.(yahoo sports)
While they may not have won the tournament, the Ugandan team made history in being the first team from Africa to compete in the tournament, ever. I can only imagine the feelings of excitement they all had as they suited up, and marched proudly onto the diamond that day and reminded the world why the love of a game is so special.
if you want to learn more about the Uganda Little League or make a donation, visit http://ugandalittleleaguebaseball.org/index.htm