The sport of baseball is gradually making headway in the Uganda, a developing African nation with a population of 38 million.
Twenty-five years ago, there was no baseball in Uganda: no fields, no bats, no gloves, no pitchers, no hitters. Baseball was first brought to Uganda by missionaries in the early 90s but the sport really started in earnest in 2002, when Richard Stanley, an American businessman who is a partial owner of the Yankees Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, was in the country to help the country grow its vegetable oil industry.
A government official asked him to help kickstart the country’s baseball infrastructure, and he wrangled enough starter kits from the MLB (Major League Baseball) and Little League to start four teams Little League Baseball was started in Uganda in 2002 and has been on the rise since then.
In late 2003, the International School of Uganda in Kampala—with the help of an American teacher who had built a couple backstops on opposite corners of a soccer field—held the country’s first four-team Little League tournament, and crowned the Uganda’s first Little League champion.
Not having the equipment or fields to play on, the Ugandan players have become champions of their region and played at the World Series in Williamsport, Pa. in August 2012.
In 2011 a team from Uganda won the MEA (Middle East and Africa) qualifier, ending more than a decade long dominance of the “Arabian American LL” team from Saudi Arabia and qualifying for the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., the first African team to do so.
The Ugandans never got to play a game there, though; they were denied entry visas by the U.S. immigration office. Documentation supplied by the Ugandan federation was deemed unsatisfactory by U.S. officials, making it the first time in history that a team that qualified for Little League World series did not participate. “Arabian American LL” took Uganda’s place in the tournament.
There was a silver lining, though. The story touched many, and a campaign was started leading to the Canadian Little League team, the Africans’ would-be first opponent in Williamsport, playing a friendly game in Uganda.
In what was an ending straight out of a sports movie, the team qualified for Little League World Series again in 2012 and this time was granted entry and played.
In 2015, Uganda qualified by winning the Europe-Africa regional tournament, held in Kutno, Poland. The scale of victory was impressive as the tournament featured 13 teams from Europe, while Ugandans were the only representatives from Africa.
The boys from Uganda dominated the qualifiers with a 21-1 win against Belgium; a 16-1 win against Belarus; a 10-0 win against the Czech Republic in a game in which the Ugandan pitcher allowed only one hit in five innings and retired the other 15 batters on strikeouts; a 4-0 over Italy in which the Ugandan pitcher threw a no-hitter; and a 16-0 win against Spain.
In the main event, the Little World League Series, Uganda surprised many by pulling a sensational victory over Dominican Republic. In Uganda, there are currently 30 teams, 6 of which are clubs are participating in baseball club senior National league and tournaments.
The teams come from various parts of the country, from as far as Northern Uganda, in the south, in the west and in the east. This translates, roughly speaking, into over 20,000 young men and women across the country. Other than active players, many people, particularly in the town centers, who follow these sports and indeed attend the games as spectators.
Therefore if participation is not measured not only in terms of play, but also in terms of following, then it is fitting to say baseball is fast gaining popularity in the country.
The rising popularity of baseball in Uganda and the enthusiasm showed by younger generation in playing the games has even led some to predict that Uganda might be a future powerhouse on the international scene.