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.
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.
The first time I shook Jim’s hand was at a train station in Southeast Pennsylvania. His mystique was as palpable in person as it was online. His LinkedIn profile displayed a man about the world, framed in a cowboy hat, his mile-wide southern grin nuzzled against a thick white beard. He was an accomplished wildlife conservationist with footprints in many corners of the globe.
Now, as I push my well-loaded luggage cart through this parking garage-cum-arrival terminal at JKIA, we meet for the second time. After three weeks of food, friends, and fun in Ethiopia, I’d made my way from Addis to Nairobi, not entirely certain how the next few months would play out.
“Welcome to Kiniia,” Jim boasts, hand extended. Rosy cheeks pronounce his grin.