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Samuel Dowuona

Although Baseball has been on the list of sporting activities in Ghana since 1992, it was not really recognized until February last year, when the African Development Foundation (ADF) donated US$100,000 worth of baseball kit to the Ghana Baseball and Softball Association (GHABSA).

ADF followed up on their commitment to the development of the game in Ghana with yet another donation of baseball kit worth the same amount this year to enable GHABSA to continue supporting the five active baseball teams out of 20 in Ghana.

But that is not the real cause of the growing baseball fever in the country. This year when ADF came to present the kit to GHABSA there were more than just some officials from ADF. There was the American Ambassador to Ghana, Pamela Bridgewater, officials from USAID in Ghana and best of all a 22-member delegation comprising of United States of America Major League Baseball Hall of Famers and managers, as well as sports journalists from US and Canada.

As part of their activities they held Baseball ball clinics to train players, coaches and umpires for the game and also initiated the Little League Baseball in Ghana.

Their coming also saw a signing ceremony between ADF and the University of Ghana, Legon for a 600 by 600 meters plot of land within the Legon sports arena for the construction of a full size baseball pitch, public stands, dressing rooms, offices and hostels.

Believe it or not, no mean persons than Omar Minaya, Manager of the famous New York Mets and Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Vice President of San Diego Baseball League were in Ghana to put their heavy weights behind the development of the game in Ghana.

Minaya should have probably been in the States buying players for his team but he chose to come to Ghana to help develop talents who could be of use to the Mets some years down the line. Futuristic thinking, isn’t it?

Thick, tall Dave Winfield, who in his hay days played for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres among others, had businesses to run back home but he made time out of his busy schedules to come and join the about 400 kids aging between 7 and 14 and some 50 or so adults who form the core of Ghana Baseball currently.

Also on the delegation were Dusty Baker, formerly of the LA Dodgers and Reggie Smith, a former player of the Red Sox and Al Jackson, another old baseball star.

ADF is really at it to ensure that in the next five years, baseball will move from one of the lesser sports to one of the major ones in Ghana. The standard to beat now is football (soccer) and ADF Founder and President George Ntim believes he has what it takes and the necessary support, connections and goodwill to beat that standard.

In addition to donation of the kit, ADF has also arranged for exchange programs between academies in the US and schools here and also exchange programs between all 30 baseball teams in the US and the 20 active and inactive teams in Ghana beginning from next year.

Is it just mere coincidence or destiny that good things are happening to Ghana at 50? Baseball comes to Ghana at 50 and Ghana Black Stars just thrashed Super Eagles of Nigeria 4-1 to break a 15 year old jinx.

It is no secret that baseball, is basically an American thing, even though some people would want to claim it has its origins in the British Cricket. The US Embassy in Ghana and the USAID, have therefore put their weight behind the development of the game in Ghana in no mean way. US$50,000 donation from USAID at the instance of the US Ambassador, for the development of the game, for instance, is something to write home about.

On the local front, no less a person than the Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama has expressed a keen interest in the development of the game in Ghana and has pledged to personally ensure that the game get as much of the necessary support it needs from the government to reach international standards in the shortest possible time.

The Vice President hosted the US Baseball delegation to a dinner before they left the country.

Even before the delegation left for the US, Ghana has started showing signs of readiness to supply US teams with valuable baseball players. Already 19 year old Daniel Atiemo, aka Iron, a Little League Baseball player in Ghana has caught the eyes of the managers of some teams in the US and of sports journalists from the US and Canada for his brilliant performance in the game over the past 12 years he has been in the game. Atiemo, who has been described as Ghana’s Baseball MVP (most valuable player) is a Shot Stopper and a Second Base.

Indeed am told that ADF has received an appreciable number of phone calls from some top teams in the US Middle League Baseball who are interested in “Iron”.

I personally watched two separate baseball matches sponsored by Tigo for children and adults respectively at Tema on the day of the presentation of the kit and I can testify of the passion and skill with which they played. Iron for instance hit a home run to the delight of the array of American stars and journalists gathered. Indeed, it goes to say that Ghana has more than just good soccer players.

But there are some limitations though. We do not have the full size baseball pitches for our players to really test their pulse well, especially with the home run hits. Currently they use football parks, which are not big enough for the game.

On the home front therefore, GHABSA in conjunction with the National Sports Council (NSC) are working on getting some plots of land for pitches to complement the efforts of ADF, USAID and the American Ambassador to make baseball really big in Ghana.

Currently negotiations are on-going for the securing of plots of land at Prampram in Accra East and at Winneba, in the Central Region to build full size baseball pitches in addition to the one that has been secured at Legon.

Mr. Prince Oduro-Mensah, Chief Executive of NSC has strongly pledged his personal commitment to the game and has therefore assured GHABSA that when the council meets heads of the various sports associations this month, baseball would be high on the agenda.

He actually pledged to put some of the seven billion cedis budgetary allocation of the council this year into the game, something that promises to give a new lease of life to government’s commitment to the game since baseball was listed as a national sport. He also promised to personally appeal to corporate sponsors to take up the game.

It is important to note that baseball did not start in Ghana today, not even in 1992. When it first came to this country, it was purely for socialization, played in neighbourhoods where mostly American citizens resided. Ghanaian residents of places like Labone and Cantonment in Accra and some parts of Tema had the opportunity to learn the game from their American neighbours.

Now George Ntim, President of ADF is here with Baseball Stars and equipment, to consolidate the gains made from that social experience and help to make the game a big business in Ghana.

Ntim tells me that the least earning baseball player in the US Middle and Major Leagues takes home not less than US$325,000 a year. But some earn as high as US$25million a year.

He was confident that the passion and skill with which Ghanaians play the game at this stage when the resources are limited, it should be possible for Ghana to start exporting baseball players into the US in the next five year or even less.

If Ntim’s predictions comes true, the implications for our economy is vast – with such high earnings the players would no doubt improve the living standards of their families, but beyond that it would attract the attention of sports development giants to Ghana and that would manifest in the establishment of pitches, training academies, facilities for schools and more.

Afterall Minaya and Ntim’s personal friend and inspirer, Alfonso Soriano of the Chicago Cubs, who earn at least US$17 million a year, came from Dominican Republic, one of the poorest Latin American countries, started from the scratch and have risen to the top of US Baseball in both skills and earnings.

The ball really lies in the court of corporate sponsors, whom am told have since 1992 been shying away from Baseball because they do not see the prospects.

Sometimes I get surprised that we do not believe in a thing when they are at their infant stages, but we tend to jump unto the train when it has already taken off. Even the big guys in American baseball have expressed confidence in our local players, but sponsors seem to fear that they would have nothing to gain if they sponsor baseball now.

It is my hope that the coming of the baseball stars into Ghana would serve as an impetus for corporate Ghana to see the need to put their weight behind the sport.

Let me end with one observation made by the NSC Boss, that there are several small countries who come to international sports events and take away several medals because they have representation for games, which countries like Ghana do not take serious.

Indeed the NSC boss thinks that Baseball for instance could be an opportunity for Ghana to increase its medal record in international games and he is therefore asking corporate Ghana to support the efforts to make the game big in Ghana in order for the game to make Ghana big at international events.

He also believes that Ghana is in the position to be a leader once again, this time not just in political independence but in the development of baseball to world class standards. He puts it this way “when Ghana leads others follow and I believe that even though some African countries are already in the game, we have what it take to takeover as we enter the game.”

Well, I believe him and I think the entire Ghanaian public should put our weight behind the NSC, GHABSA, ADF, USAID and the American Embassy in their effort to make Ghana a baseball hub in Africa. The gains are indeed vast for this country.

Obviously the baseball fever is fast getting high and it’s about time every Ghanaian caught it!

Samuel Dowuonah, Ghanadot.com, Feb 11, Accra





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