Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ghetto Boys

A group of teenage boys living in the worst slum in Kampala.

They play with a swagger that belies their hardships off the field. They dream of baseball, all while going through the transitions to manhood: from their crushes on girls, struggles with schooling, and finding their places in a world that has been hard on them.

Their coach, George, learned the game largely on his own and recognized the power that sports had to help the kids he saw in dire circumstances. He recruits boys from his slum to form a team: training them on a small patch of grass in the ghetto; scraping together abandoned equipment; organizing games against any other team he
can find.

That is from the excellent, moving documentary "Opposite Fields", about one man's dream to bring baseball to the youth of Uganda.

For a preview of the clip, please see Planet Hardball.

Personally, I've never been to Uganda. But I have been to sub-Saharan Africa, and I've been in the slums, and I've seen young kids just like described in this film. The problem is, I can't describe it here. I wish I could, but there is no frame of reference unless you've been there. I wish I could explain it to you.

I wish I could tell you how in a place where there are no jobs, little education, and most often no hope for anything substantial, anything to provide any kind of opportunity is changing a life. My biggest regret from my time there is that I didn't do what I could have for the kids out in the street.

None of this means that Ugandan kids will start signing minor league contracts anytime soon, if ever. But it does give them something. We all played as kids, and we played for two reasons. Because we loved it, and to get better. We had something to look forward to and something to strive for. Maybe baseball will give the kids something to look forward to beyond their next meal and a place to sleep.

What George is doing is a rare and uncommon thing, no matter what country you live in. He's giving of himself, for the good of others. And for no personal gain.

A lot of people don't care about baseball outside the major leagues. Or don't know it exists outside North America, Japan and the Caribbean basin. But watching kids play the game in an empty lot in a slum in an African city is not different than watching kids play on a local field in a small town in Missouri.

One thing I picked up from the film that I hadn't been aware of :

In 2010, for the first time, teams from Africa will compete for a spot in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. And one of them will represent their continent. It's called a field of dreams for a reason.

Maybe you don't care about kids playing baseball in Africa, and that's why you should watch the film. Because then maybe you will.

And maybe you should.


Callum said...

Great stuff Ron! I have enjoyed reading your posts so far. It is nice to read material written by someone who shares the passion and enthusiasm for international baseball that I do. Keep it up!

Ron Rollins said...


Thanks. Nice to know someone is reading and finds it interesting.


John Fitzgerald said...

Thanks for the link, Ron.

Great site. You've got another regular reader.

John Fitzgerald
Planet Hardball