In late January of 2020, I received a message from a former Peace Corps colleague asking if I could serve as a point of contact for a young Ethiopian man about to arrive in Vietnam.
“Of course,” I replied, “pass him my number.”
His name was Mezgebu. He was coming to Vietnam to study Mechanical Engineering after being denied a visa to the US, despite acceptance into the Yale Young Scholar’s Program as well as the Engineering program at Marietta College. The colleague who messaged me had helped to crowdfund his expenses that would otherwise be too much for his family to absorb.
By the time Mezgebu and I met in person, about two weeks later, the novel coronavirus had already breached Vietnam’s borders. Due to the epidemic, the start of fall classes was postponed and the majority of the Vietnamese population simply stayed put in their hometowns, where they had flocked weeks earlier in advance of the Lunar (Chinese) New Year.
“I’m not sure how much help I can be,” I told him. “It seems my time is running out.”
Toward the end of 2019, I hinted on social media, as well as on the World Baseball Project Go Fund Me page, that I would soon be sharing some “big news”. I didn’t want to share the news before everything was confirmed, so I continued to casually drop hints in the weeks that followed. As the calendar turned to 2020, details were still being hashed out, but all of the pieces were nearly in place. By early March, it looked like it was all really about to happen.
And then, of course, the world slipped into a deep state of pandemic. While there are countless accounts of plans foiled by COVID-19, this one was pretty big.
So what was it?
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,
In a recent meeting with representatives at the Bekoji Youth Sports Office, the Bekoji Baseball Club was granted a new dedicated playing time on the official schedule for the town stadium and offered use of a storage locked on the stadium grounds. The Club was also asked to submit short- and long-term plans for their role in local baseball development, in the interest of achieving official status within the town’s sports structure. Further, it was suggested that the Club submit proposal for inclusion of a baseball field in the plans of a new athletic facility, currently under development, and also referred to the local university for possible inclusion within sport curriculum at the school.
World Baseball Project was honored to be on hand for a pair of goodwill games this past Saturday, in Dong Nai province, Vietnam. The “Baseball Friend” matches, hosted by the Japanese Vietnam Baseball Association (JVBA), invited clubs from Cambodia and Vietnam to join the local Japanese club for a day of development-oriented competition, inclusive of Japanese baseball formalities and played in observation of international baseball rules and regulations. The matches were not official, in the sense of impact on international rankings, but were true competitive affairs in the name of friendship through baseball. Gifts were exchanged in an opening ceremony, making well apparent the collective love for baseball and a profound respect for the sport.
On 22 July 2018, ten founding members of the Bekoji Baseball Club took their first-ever road trip, along with Coach Joe, down to a far-distant town, deep in southern Ethiopia. A few weeks prior, Rohobot stumbled across an article about a “baseball team” that had been started at an NGO in that town. We reached out to management at the site, asked if we could come down for some baseball, hired a minibus for the day, and set off with visions of barnstorming.
We are currently on a quarterly newsletter cycle. You can expect to receive no more than 4 newsletters per year.
The 2018 Baseball 4 Africa National Showcase Tournament was featured. on KBC news. A short clip was aired on the 9pm news - watching the news is as popular a pastime in Kenya as baseball is in America - but this online edition is much more detailed than what the news bit.
We hope you will join us on Baseball Safari 2019 to be on hand for next year's tournament.
On 18 July 2018, a contingent of Bekoji Baseball Club's founding members hit the air waves of Addis Ababa, via EBC Radio / 104.7 FM, on the "High Time" youth information show with Assegid Mulugeta.
We had a blast talking baseball with Assegid for and hour, and hopefully put the baseball bug in a few more Ethiopian ears. We believe the new Prime Minister, His Excellency, Dr. Abiy, may have mentioned something about baseball in a speech a few days later, so maybe...
We can't stop listening to it. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
We'll toss a few more pics from the day up on Instagram shortly. If you don't already follow us there, please do: Instagram.com/world_baseball_project
On July 3, 2018, Rohobot Debele arrived at Jomo Kenyata International Airport, in Nairobi, Kenya. It was his first time on an airplane, as well as his first experience traveling to another country, from his native Ethiopia – a neighbour of Kenya to the north. It also marks, as far as available recorded history can show, the first time an Ethiopian has travelled abroad for the purposes of baseball. In other words, Rohobot made history.