Beyond the bases
Dubai Little League encourages young expats to turn passion into aspirations
Baseball may not have originated in the US, but no one plays the sport as passionately as its citizens do. Most Americans have held the heavy bat at least once in their lives, let alone swung it during school events and extra-curricular activities.
According to Statista.com, around 492,000 students participated in US high school baseball programmes in the year 2016-2017. This is one among many factors that earned it its official status as a national sport.
Baseball holds such a prominent position in the US that many youngsters aspire to carve a career in Major League Baseball. Expatriate youth in the UAE too have an opportunity to dream big, thanks to the Dubai Little League, which hosts regular matches, in partnership with Emirates, Jumeirah Group, ADCB and other sponsors.
"Dubai Little League was established about 20 years ago, and we have been playing at Al Qouz Pond Park for the last 15 years," says John Fekete, President of the Dubai Little League, who had volunteered to take over the position about four years ago but has been active in the league for seven years.
Some players from the Dubai Little League U15 Boys team (alongside the U18 Boys team) will participate in the Lake Oswego Firecracker 4th of July tournament in Oregon.
With the support of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the group grew from a handful of enthusiasts to around 500 members in total, with players hailing from over 50 different countries.
"We're a developmental league. We are here to help people understand, love the game, and appreciate the community. We are able to cater to young aspirations to play baseball on a professional level, and we are also open to beginners who just want to come down and have fun," he says.
Dubai Little League also extends its field to instil sportsmanship and passion for baseball among the Determined Ones, who are officially known as the Dubai Challengers League. "This is something close to our hearts and it feels wonderful to be able to give back to the community," Fekete says.
The group has been successful in integrating and encouraging teamwork and confidence among youth through baseball across the city.
"The game depends on how well a player coordinates with one another, and we have been able to foster a great community. While the league is exclusively for youth aged four to 18 years, older players have the opportunity to coach and manage them," he says, adding that their game seasons start in November and end in April.
|Making of a global sport
The U.S.' national sport is now making its way towards internationalisation, following recent news that announced the Major League Baseball (MLB) seasonal games in London in June 2019. With a growing interest in baseball from expatriates and corporates, coupled with a progressive environment and enviable landscapes, the MLB is likely to expand into the Middle East.
To keep the spirit alive, the league has welcomed star players from Los Angeles Dodgers in partnership with Emirates airline to coach and further integrate an appreciation for teamwork, fair play, discipline and hard work over the years.
"Being a part of Dubai Little League has shaped me in a number of different ways. It has taught me the important skill of leadership and coaching. My experience has helped me grow as a player, coach, and as a person, as it has taught me many valuable skills that I will carry with me on and off the ball-field. It has also helped me to work with different groups of people and styles of coaching," says 14-year-old American Caylee Watters (pictured above), who has been playing softball since the age of six.
Dubai Little League often hosts Baseball and Softball events, welcoming teams from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to take part in tournaments. The Dubai team has showcased impressive skills on the field, topping Under-8, U14 and U18 baseball matches as well as the U14 and U18 softball games.
With summer now in full swing, most members of the Dubai Little League are off for the holidays, however, two dozen players are set to spend the season polishing their skills for a special tournament in the US, the Lake Oswego Firecracker 4th of July tournament in Oregon.
Among them is 14-year-old British Canadian Oliver Duthie (main photo), who has been with the Dubai Little League since he was four years old.
"I am currently in Oregon playing on an international team that would be playing against team across America. There are some players from Dubai that are playing with me, along with new teammates from Australia and Guam. The next part of our tour will take us from Los Angeles to all across the US, including Las Vegas, Denver, Nebraska, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, NYC and New Jersey. We play every day pretty much for about seven to eight weeks. It's a great opportunity to play against and with other kids from different countries," he says.
An 18-year-old Hungarian-American Sean Fekete (pictured above), who has been making headlines as the UAE's very own baseball prodigy will also be part of the summer tournament.
"For me, baseball is just so relaxing and it helps me calm my nerves. You can always just go outside for a throw with your friends and have a good time. Playing in the UAE has been so much fun because it has helped me create so many close friendships for life," he says. Sean is set to attend Sacramento State University next year on a baseball scholarship.
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