They play baseball here. Well, not here here, “here” being Abu Dhabi.
To my knowledge, Abu Dhabi has one softball field … zero baseball fields. “Fields” of any sort are at a premium here in the desert, and heavily in demand by soccer players. So we have no ball fields here; none dedicated to baseball, anyway.
But in Dubai, which has a higher concentration of western expatriates, they actually have four Little League diamonds. The two-thirds-size, 60-foot bases Little League diamonds.
And they have a league, too.
Dubai Little League is on its way to the Asia/Middle East playoffs, in the Philippines, to see who will go to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August.
Not many baseball people in the UAE, but those who love the game represent a small, hard core of followers who overcome the difficulties and play the game.
And we, at The National, went out and talked to them and did a nice, meaty story on them.
I feel for these guys. They just want to play a little ball in a country where the Nos. 1-2-3-4-5 sports are soccer, cricket, soccer, cricket and soccer, with some rugby then thrown in, and another half-lap back, some basketball.
Baseball? Barely moves the needle. The Dubai Little League has 475 kids in the system, which is now open to kids from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, too, each of which also have an expat population of sufficient numbers to generate a ballplayer kid. But it is at least 90 minutes to drive from Abu Dhabi or Al Ain to Dubai; that’s how badly these guys want to play.
The team is made up mostly of the kids of Americans and Canadians. Many of the kids were born overseas, which says “career expats” about the parents. Which is neither a good nor bad thing; just telling.
The league has been around for a few years now, and some of the better teams to come out of there included kids from Japan. This all-star team has one kid of Pakistani-Japanese origin. And another who is Indonesian, having learned how to play the game near Jakarta, and I had no idea baseball was played anywhere in that country.
The good news about this team is that they have played Saudi Arabia’s Little League team 14 times this year and defeated them every time, the coach says. This is significant because Saudi Arabia (thanks to Americans on military bases there) was a semi-regular at Williamsport for a decade or two as champions of “Europe”.
Sadly, being able to defeat Saudi Arabia now counts for very little, because Little League International has shifted the Middle East teams from the Europe zone to Asia, proper, and these UAE-based kids are about to go into a tournament that includes Japan and Taiwan, and the odds of them getting out of that … well, not good. Japan and Taiwan have won the World Series more than a few times.
But the trip to the Philippines (a long ride, even from the UAE), that should be memorable, and maybe America’s national pastime will be handed down another generation.
Just thinking about this has made me want to get a ball and a glove and go out and play catch. Maybe not today, because it was 100 before noon, but someday in the winter. Maybe at the park just down the street.