Baseball in Johannesburg!

Baseball in J'burg 167 We had a wonderful time playing baseball with a group of about 50 young boys and girls in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The head of the program, Mohammed Basson “Ali”, pulled together a fabulous late afternoon of fun baseball for us, along with a great dinner afterwards.  They were incredible hosts, and we really had a great time with them on our first day in South Africa.

Baseball in J'burg 147 We’ve now played baseball in ten countries — Australia, China, Thailand, Bhutan, India, New Zealand, Peru, Argentina, and South Africa.  Tonight, I felt particularly emotional about our little baseball ambassadors program for our trip.  These kids are almost all from the very poorest parts of Johannesburg, and have so little.  Several of them live in an  Baseball in J'burg 175 AIDS center, having contracted AIDS from birth.  The children were so nice to us, enthusiastic about baseball and America, and thrilled to get a simple gift like a Red Sox baseball hat.  There was such joy at this little athletic field in Johannesburg tonight, from kids facing such great challenges, that it was baseball and ambassadorship at its very best.

Baseball in J'burg 021 In South Africa, baseball isn’t a popular sport.  They play a lot of football (our soccer), rugby, and some golf and tennis here, but baseball isn’t on the radar screen yet.  So the progress of this baseball program is impressive.  They now have about 100 kids involved at all levels, and participation is increasing rapidly.  They are located near Soweto and Westbury, two of the most economically challenged areas of Johannesburg, and they have very few resources for their program.  But they are doing a great job with these young players, all of whom seem really excited to be playing baseball.

Baseball in J'burg 004 They put together a special practice session for us, starting at 5:00 p.m.  The kids are all in school, which runs late in the afternoon, so 5:00 p.m. was the earliest that everyone could be there.  The kids first said their team Baseball Pledge, then they all did stretches, warm up throws, practice grounders, and then some scrimmaging.  Most of the practice was under the lights, and their field (Bill Jardine Stadium) is used primarily for rugby, so it lacks the things you’d normally find on a baseball field (backstop, bases, outfield fence). 

Baseball in J'burg 151 Few of the kids have their own equipment.  The program has gotten some help from the New York Yankees, who they said are helping a range of teams in South Africa.  The Yankees have donated equipment and hats, so they’ve really helped jumpstart this program.  They teams aren’t part of Little League yet, but will be joining a Little League here in the next few months, which they are very excited about.  It was great to see this program getting help from U.S. organizations, and we were thrilled to be part of helping them out.

Baseball in J'burg 037 I was impressed by the number of coaches there for the session, as well as the broad involvement of parents.  The head coach, Ashley (in photo on right), was on top of his baseball.  His favorite player is Manny Ramirez.  This coach will be coming to the United States for the first time in July to spend three weeks at a Cal Ripken camp for coaches, and is very excited about the trip.  He was helped out at the practice by a half dozen other coaches, as well as a number of women who do a great job there with the management of the league — not to mention preparing a great dinner for us.

Baseball in J'burg 114 Our baseball session was joined by a group of children from the Sparrow Village, a center for children in the Johannesburg area with AIDS.  This center has some 250 kids, and the issue of AIDS-impacted children here is quite serious.  It turns out that this center has a field and a baseball coach, but no equipment at all, so we’ll be helping them jumpstart a program at their facility.

Baseball in J'burg 022 On our first day in South Africa, we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the country.  We had a very demanding day getting here, leaving on a 4:30 a.m. flight from Dubai, which meant getting up at 1:30 a.m. Dubai time (11:30 p.m. Johannesburg time).  But we were all wide awake for the baseball, and met some great people.  And just seeing all of these young children having a great time playing baseball was worth the challenges of the “commute.”

Baseball in J'burg 202 Baseball in J'burg 159

You just have to go and check out our pictures from Baseball in Johannesburg!  There are so many kids that you’ll just want to give a big hug to.

4 Responses to “Baseball in Johannesburg!”

  1. Pauline Taylor Says:

    Dear Ted and Elizabeth,
    It was such a pleasure to meet you last Wed. Thank you so much for your interest in Sparrow. The kids were so excited to see themselves on the computer. They are all probably wearing their Red Sox World Series caps and swapping them around the village.
    It was great to meet someone from the states. I do hope you will help with getting us some equipment as I would love for our kids to really get interested in baseball and it’s hard without the proper gloves, bats and balls.
    I hope you enjoyed Namibia and the rest of your trip is successful.
    Pauline Taylor


    We at the African Baseball Network wish you and your family well and hopefully your story will serve as an eye opener about baseball in Africa. We are very warm heartedly people who love baseball and children in our communities are very happy about endeavors such as that of your family. As you can see even just a baseball hat can put a smile on a kids face thousands of miles away from Boston.

    Very Best wishes upon your trip & stay in our home continent Africa.

  3. Philip Constable and the rest of the gang Says:

    Ted, Elizabeth, Gibson, and Sterling,

    Just read through your latest blog (and some of the earlier one’s as well). What an experience you guys are having! The Red Sox could use some of the young players you played baseball with in Johannesburg as they have lost 5 in a row. Our family is great – lot’s of skiing over the winter and now little league. I just started a new job at The Lucas Group – a boutique consulting firm with ex-bain guys here in Boston.

    We all send you our best and want to hear all the stories in the first person when you return.

    Philip, Melinda, Peter, Oliver, and Hannah

  4. Mohamed Ali Basson Says:

    October 2008

    Dear Ted

    Equipment Donation

    On behalf of Raiders Baseball Club (RBC), I hereby wish to thank you and your family for the generous donation of baseball equipment received, the amount of equipment is far more than anticipated and will be put to good use.

    The main thrust of RBC was getting kids to come and play baseball with limited cost to both kids and parents; with your donation our mission might be easily achieved.

    I also wish to thank David Rhode for coordinating the acquisition and delivery of the donated goods.

    We (Raiders parents and players) thank you from the bottom of our hearts in making our dreams come true, in bringing baseball back to the children and to make a meaningful contribution to the communities at large.

    Hope your visit to South Africa is the first of many.

    Yours sincerely

    Mohamed Ali Basson

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