Baseball may be known as the American pastime, but it has gained considerable popularity in parts of Latin America and Asia. Now the sport is gaining ground on another continent, Africa.
Four organizations in Kenya run baseball programs. The largest Little League organization is in Kikuyu, outside Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
The league started three years ago and draws players from 50 local schools. Equipment is donated by two U.S.-based nonprofits, Angels at Bat and American Friends of Kenya.
Captain Kelly Lemaiyen, captain of the Kilimanjaro All-Stars, who play in the Kikuyu league is one of the shortest members on his team, and one of the youngest at just 12. But the shortstop commands respect on the diamond.
Lemaiyen said baseball “is a very wonderful game. I like it. It gives me discipline. If I have discipline in school, then I have discipline in baseball.”
The All-Stars draw players from impoverished backgrounds.
“Some of them, over the weekends, they were selling scrap, moving around the town, but baseball, I mean, has made them busy, said coach Chapman Owino. “They are now more responsible, even at home. That is why you see parents are supporting my program. Parents are supporting me, asking, ‘Is so-and-so in the field?’ That means something has changed. Even their brain capacity, even their performance in school is very fantastic.”
On a recent day, the All-Stars played the Alliance High School Batmen. Patrick Esendi, manager of the Batmen, said baseball is catching on in Kenya. Finding qualified coaches, he added, has been the biggest challenge.
“Some of us have to go to YouTube and learn the game,” he said. “We have to wait for visitors to come, especially from the baseball federation, and bring in coaches so they are able to help us.”
But in Kenya, can baseball really give football and athletics (track and field) a run for their money?
The president of the Little League, George Mahinda, thinks so.
“We need to diversify beyond athletics,” Mahinda said. “Kenya, we are known for athletics, which means when we go to baseball, we are going to beat the rest of the world because we are already good in running around the field.”
The All-Stars won their contest against the Batmen, 10-7. But the team is eyeing bigger victories.
No Kenyan team has ever played in the Little League World Series, which is held every year in the United States. The Kilimanjaro All-Stars aim to be the first.