It's hard to believe that more than two years have passed since launching World Baseball Project. In that time, the dream has only continued to grow as The Project as taken shape and the path forward has become more clear.
A little over a year ago, Rohobot and I said goodbye to Jim and Cheryl, through misty eyes, at the conclusion of the 2018 Baseball 4 Africa Tournament in Nairobi. I walked away from the group, to the edge of the fields where we were part of a core group who had just collectively executed one of the most successful single days of baseball in Kenyan sports history.
I looked up at a crescent moon growing brighter as dusk settled down over the Lenana School, removed my cap, lowered my head, and said a short prayer. I asked, very simply, for this beautiful dream of ours to finally come to total fruition.
A lot has happened since the 2017 launch; we've come a long way - we're closer than we've ever been to fully realizing The Dream; we've endured great growing pains and we still have quite a ways to go - a lot of room to grow...
Please continue reading for a look back at some of the progress we have made, together, in that time - the true measure of what we have already achieved is yet to be realized.
As always, thanks for your unending support and helping us get this far. We are very much looking to 2020 - the Year of the Baseball - and to many bright horizons ahead.
Best Wishes, on behalf of all involved and impacted,
Rohobot Goes to Kenya
If you've been following World Baseball Project for a while, then you already know that our main fundraising effort last year was to cover costs for our Captain in Ethiopia, Rohobot, to come to Kenya for baseball development via the Baseball 4 Africa Championship Tournament.
In case you missed it, you can read all about Ro's time in Kenya here: Ro Goes to Kenya
Baseball 4 Africa Championship Tournament
Coach Joe represented World Baseball Project as a supporting partner of the planning, development, and execution of the 2018 Baseball 4 Africa Championship Tournament, held at Lenana school in Nairobi, Kenya - the 14th annual holding of the event. Joe also reuinted with the Elburgon team and helped coach them to victory over Mitiku school, in a thrilling come-from-behind win in the final hours of daylight.
A portion of World Baseball Project funds were used to provide healthy snacks for 200+ participants of the tournament as well as other structural and logistical needs (in addition to all of Rohobot's costs). We also provided brand new Under Armor batting gloves and a ballcap donated by Jake's American BBQ (in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) as MVP awards.
World Baseball Project will target presence at the Baseball 4 Africa National Championship Tournament on alternating years. We have also discussed plans for a separate pan-African tournament, to be hosted in Nairobi in the near future, via the same partner network.
Baseball on the Radio
Founding members of the Bekoji Baseball Club, Rohobot, Joseph, and Yitages joined with Coach Joe for a live on-the-air interview about baseball in Ethiopia. The interview was aired live on 104.7 FM in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and was so popular that they replayed it a week later. We were invited to be interviewed by the show's host, Assegid Mulugeta.
In case you missed it, or want another listen, the interview is available online here. The original blog post detailing the interview is available here.
Talks are already underway for founding members to join Assegid for a follow-up interview. Stay tuned!
Gear Replenishment for Bekoji Baseball
Another important action on our 2018 Ethiopian leg was providing a much-needed refreshment of baseball equipment for Bekoji Baseball. The guys had been using the same well-worn and weathered gloves, balls, bats, and catcher's gear we started with in 2013. Some of the material also made its way to Adigrat, in northern Ethiopia, where one of Bekoji Baseball's found members - another Joe - is attending university and now teaching classmates about baseball. Another stash also just landed in Jima, where Kasahun will present baseball as a sport to his university.
We owe big thanks to Pitch In for Baseball, via Jim Tamarack, and the Qilins Baseball Academy, via Jim Mann, for equipment donations. World Baseball Project funds were used to cover material transport costs as well as for the purchase of additional baseball teaching materials that were added to the donation.
Baseball Road Trip: Ethiopia Edition
While we were in Kenya, Ro stumbled across a post on the website of an NGO located in southern Ethiopia called Common River. The post claimed the forming of the first baseball team in Ethiopia, in 2016. Given that Bekoji Baseball formed in 2013, we were curious to see what was going on down south.
We sent an email to the organization and asked if we could come down for a visit. Upon their agreement, we made all arrangements to rent a vehicle and driver for the day. Following a stressful morning, with much confusion and an apparently higher bill than we had anticipated, we were off and heading toward the SNNPR region of Ethiopia.
We arrived to a swarm of schoolchildren who were told something to the effect of the national baseball team of Ethiopia would be making an appearance. While a bit of a stretch, our guys can certainly claim founding fathers status when it comes to Ethiopian baseball, so it's not all that much of a stretch.
All told, it was a highly successful trip that allowed the founding members of Bekoji Baseball to take on leadership roles by teaching the game to students at Common River as well as helping us create a connection with another community partner in Ethiopian baseball development.
World Baseball Project funds were used to cover transportation costs for the day as well as to provide to whole meals to all members of the Bekoji Baseball club. You can read our full post about the day here.
Bekoji Sports Office Meeting
Back in Bekoji, we were able to meet with top officials at the Bekoji Youth Sports Office. The meeting was lead by Rohobot and much was accomplished, with unprecedented efficiency.
World Baseball Project provided pre-meeting preparation support and has continued to provide follow-up support to the Bekoji Baseball Club in developing their official charter and proposal for official club stats, as recognized by Bekoji administration.
Read the full summary of the meeting here.
Underdogs United to Kenya (reppin' Trevor Williams)
A little over a month before the Kenya/Ethiopia reconnect, we received an email from Underdogs United, asking if we could help connect them to the baseball communities we support in Kenya. Of course, we were happy to help.
The team from Underdogs had been given a donation of Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys, courtesy of Trevor Williams, and wanted to make sure they found a good home. Of course, we were happy to set them up with Elburgon and Kabete.
World Baseball Project helped to remotely coordinate the effort, communicating with relevant parties at each site, while George from Baseball 4 Africa helped to arrange the team's transportation.
Tuition Assistance for Captain Rohobot
We have twice received requests for assistance from Rohobot; we were able to help one of those times. As Rohobot is the voluntary captain of Bekoji Baseball, he has done so much to keep baseball alive in Bekoji and to introduce kids in Bekoji to the sport, thus giving them a much-needed activity option on a weekly basis. The least we could do is help keep him in school.
Thanks to a handful of responses to our urgent call for donations, we were able to cover a semester's worth of tuition fees for Rohobot, so he could breathe easier and focus on his studies and baseball. Providing merit-based tuition assistance and educational opportunities is an initiative World Baseball Project intends to expand in the future.
Keeping Score for Ho Chi Minh Baseball League
In March of 2019, Joe was invited to serve as scorekeeper for the upcoming Ho Chi Minh Baseball League season. While the league is not a product of World Baseball Project - it was started by a group of amateur Korean ballplayers residing in Vietnam - participating in the league translated as an opportunity to further solidify roots for the Project across the Asian continent.
The scorekeeper role also allowed Joe to maintain a neutral, observational perspective, akin to that of a baseball scout, through which he was able to provide evaluative feedback to the developing young men's Vietnamese baseball team (the only known baseball team in Ho Chi Minh City). Indeed, the World Baseball Project's network in Asia has deepened as a result, and has even already lead to more grassroots baseball development opportunies.
Equipment Provision to Lam Dong Province, Vietnam
Another effect of Joe serving as scorekeeper for the Ho Chi Minh Baseball League was an opportunity to build quality relationships with league members, especially those of the Vietnamese baseball team.
One of those players, Nam Giang, asked for help. He is passionate about baseball and wanted to teach it to kids in his hometown, in the highland province of Lam Dong.
We were able to assist in a small way, by facilitating a batch of gloves and balls, originally donated by Qilins Academy (Dongguan, China), for Nam Giang to take along to his town. World Baseball Project funds were used to cover costs of shipping from China to Vietnam. Joe is planning to make a visit to this remote baseball community over the upcoming 2020 Lunar New Year holiday to consider adding it as one of our recognized Project Sites.
Development Assistance for HCMC Baseball Club
The history of baseball in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is both stained and complicated, but World Baseball Project hopes to be part of paving the way for a brighter future for the sport. As far as we know, one adult club survived the sport's rocky past and are primed to move baseball forward in the south of Vietnam.
At the request of the club's captain, Duc Vu, World Baseball Project has provided occasional practice and training support, while also offering data-driven feedback as well as encouraging a focus on the bigger picture of the sport's future and the club's identity. This has been achieved through both on-field coaching and off-the-field mentorship meetings - all on a voluntary basis, at no cost to club membership.
Remote Support for Bekoji Baseball Project
Throughout 2019, the founding members of the Bekoji Baseball Club/Project have continued to take more and more ownership over the future of baseball in Bekoji. They have continued to hold regular practice/play sessions on Saturdays, voluntarily passing along the gift of the game to Bekoji youth. The guys have also worked on compiling a key document to gain official sports club stats in the town.
During that time, World Baseball Project has provided remote mentorship support throughout that period, encouraging and guiding Rohobot and the founding members to continue to take ownership of their project, especially its goals and direction while emphasizing membership documentation. We have also continued to highlight Bekoji Baseball via social media streams, especially Instagram. Finally, the Bekoji Baseball Project was nominated for the Collective Giving Grant, presented by the Philadelphia Area Peace Corps Association (unfortunately another equally deserving organization was named the grant recipient).
As an unexpected bonus, Bekoji Baseball was paid a special visit by Baseball 4 Africa Founder, Jim Tamarack. Jim was on personal holiday in Ethiopia and asked if we could help arrange for him to stop in Bekoji and get some field time with the club. Joe and Ro coordinated remotely to execute the plan and show Jim signature Ethiopian hospitality with special Bekoji Baseball flare.
Remote Advocacy for Kenyan Baseball
Throughout 2019, we have maintained regular contact with both George Kinuthia, President of Baseball 4 Africa, and with Silvester Mwangi, Captain of Elburgon Baseball, each of whom represents a "Project Site" of past and future baseball development initiatives by World Baseball Project.
Perhaps the most significant outcome of these communications was sharing in the joy of Silvester's appointment to the National Baseball Team of Kenya, for early rounds of 2020 Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers, held in Nairobi, Kenya. Unfortunately, we also learned that, due to oversights by the Federation, as well as no actualization of pledged government funding support, the team was unable to travel to South Africa. World Baseball Project expressed grievance at the unprofessional and irresponsible handling of this situation, and will reference it moving forward as a case for more informed decision making by the Federation in Kenya.
Presentation Materials & Letter of Support for Kasahun
One of Bekoji Baseball's founding members and strongest advocates, Kasahun Bekele, is attending university in Jimma, a city in western Ethiopia, more than a day's travel from Bekoji. He recently decided, on his own, to approach both his university as well as the town's sport office about introducing baseball to Jimma.
In order to support Kasahun's pioneering efforts, World Baseball Project sent along some digital materials to help Kasahun build his presentation as well as a letter of support for him to present to university and municipal officials. We are currently working to connect Kasahun with a equipment supply and will continue to support his initiative.
Baseball Expeditions in Japan and Hong Kong
Joe took two personal trips* to countries with existing baseball infrastructure in 2019 - Japan and Hong Kong. As the world is beginning to discover, and will see more of come the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan is a baseball paradise, offering a completely different take on the game and how it is approached. Hong Kong is not quite at that level, primarily on account of land restrictions, but the game has enough of a presence to consider developmental partnership.
While in Japan, Joe represented World Baseball Project while interacting with Japanese baseball supporters, observed both professional and little/high school league games and practices, and reflected on future pathways for World Baseball Project (some of which are captured in a video, available at the beginning of this post as well as on YouTube).
In Hong Kong, Joe was able to meet with Ms. Nicky To, Senior Sports Manager for the Hong Kong Baseball Association. The meeting was more for networking/first contact purposes than moving forward any particular agenda. Over the course of their two hour discussion, Joe and Ms. To discussed a wide range of topics concerning baseball development. At the end of the meeting, Ms. To gifted Joe a pair of Kenko training balls for use in development of introductory baseball teaching/learning modules.
*As Joe's trips were of personal nature, no World Baseball Project funds were utilized.
"People of Peace Corps" Feature
In June of 2019, World Baseball Project was invited to submit photos and a story for feature on the "People of Peace Corps" Instagram page. We are honored to have been given this opportunity to get our faces out to the greater Peace Corps community, as Peace Corps is how this all began!
Please check out the original post on the People of Peace Corps Instagram, and be sure to read some of the other stories from inspiring Peace Corps Volunteers all over the world!
2020 Kenyan Baseball Safari Development
After originally developing "Baseball Safari" itineraries for promoting wildlife + sport tourism to Kenya in 2018, we took a year off to re-assess and compile a new, lower cost, modular itinerary for 2020.
We returned from the drawing board with a more optimized itinerary, allowing guests to experience both Kenyan baseball and Kenyan wildlife at a much lower price point than our 2018 offering. We are still putting on the finishing touches, but invite you to preview and/or submit a booking inquiry here.
World Baseball Project Online: Secured, Developed, Optimized
Last but not least, this very website that you are now reading deserves a mention. Taking on a task such as that of World Baseball Project is impossible this day in age without a significant web presence. Indeed, having a website is essential to being well-established online.
Your contributions made it possible to secure the necessary domain and hosting as well as to develop/procure the site's content. Recent contributions have gone toward minor site upgrades and optimizations, particularly for mobile users.
@World_Baseball_Project on Instagram
Meanwhile, we have also continued to expand our network and reach via Instagram, and have also started a mailing list for the purposes of Newsletters and other worthy announcements. It's safe to say that World Baseball Project is officially "online", which is something we could not have said even as little as two years ago!
You Are World Baseball Project!
World Baseball Project would not exist without your continued support. Please consider making a contribution today, via our Go Fund Me campaign, by clicking the banner or the link below.