Bringing people and cultures together.... Why? 'Because Baseball'
By: Pamela Dimtirova/Arab America Contributing Writer
In an age when the East and the West are culturally and socially divided, one organization strives to build bridges among families, communities, and cultures through one unique method – baseball. ‘Because Baseball’ is serving not only as a common language to build friendships across existing divisions, but also to bring baseball to its ancient roots.. and it is beautiful sight to behold
In 1889 the Chicago White Stockings and the All-Americas (a collection of National League players) embarked on a goodwill world tour to share America’s pastime across the globe. The signature stop was Egypt, where the players explored the Land of the Pharaohs and played an exhibition game in the shadow of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau. They visited with leaders and citizens, building bridges across cultures where few had existed before. The Chicago White Sox would return with the New York Giants to a warm Cairo welcome in 1914, but thanks to a changing geopolitical landscape, including two world wars, this would be the last time two teams would visit.
Yet as mesmerized as the locals were by the beautiful new game, it was not completely strange to the local society. In fact, the historical record (from tombs and temples in the south of Egypt) indicate that baseball may have a precursor in ancient times—reliefs on a 400BC temple in Aswan show pharaohs holding what appear to be bats and balls. In an interview for Arab America, the creator Kemp Gouldin said: “We chose Egypt as a starting point due to its historical relationship to the sport. We like to say we are bringing baseball back to its roots.”
The start of a journey
From a young age Kemp Gouldin noticed the critical role of baseball in building relationship at family, community and cultural levels.
“On the family level, some of the most memorable conversations I had as a child took place while playing catch with my mom and dad in the side yard. In the community, the kids my age went to an array of different public and private schools, but what brought us together was baseball – whether in the street or yard or in the park, it was baseball that brought us together. And at the national (cultural) level it was baseball – personified in the man of Jackie Robinson – that first broke down long-held divisions that seemed intractable. Before politics and public sentiment could get there, baseball was blazing a trail, bursting through the color barrier and demonstrating that maybe, just maybe, we could find a way to get along regardless of our skin tone.”
This lessons, followed by his work in the Middle East for over a decade brought him to the realization that in order to help healing our divided world, there is a need of fresh approaches – and perhaps unique methods, such as sports, can help building a bridge over the divide.
Makin a path for a difference
For a minimum time, ‘Because Baseball’ started making a positive impact on the Egyptian community. Just last spring alone, more than 1000 kids played baseball through their programs – a big difference from two years ago, no Egyptian children were playing the game, so that is quite a testament to the draw of the sport itself. Mothers and fathers are learning the game with their kids, bringing them closer together. Boys and girls from all socioeconomic demographics (even orphans) and worldviews are playing on the same teams, developing their social skills and understanding. Egyptian and American adults are coaching together, exchanging experience and innovative ways of teaching.
The Because Baseball RBI Egypt Youth League is the first MLB youth affiliate in the Middle East featuring 120 kids playing in 6 teams. The secret behind this success? The love of the kids for baseball.
“What the kids have found is that they really enjoy baseball and that keeps them coming back week after week, season after season. Not to mention the fact that these kids have a lot of talent – during his December 2018 trip to Cairo Former San Francisco Giants GM Bobby Evans noted that a large number of these kids would be in the top 25% of their age group if they were playing in the United States. The sky is really the limit for baseball in Egypt and the region at large.”
But it’s not only the kids that are encouraged to take part of the game and share this experience with their children: “Many were hesitant at first because the sport was so different than anything they had tried before. However once a few brave parents put on the gloves and stepped onto the field, it was like the floodgates opened and nearly every single parent threw caution to the wind and participated. The smiles on their faces rivaled their children’s.”
‘Because Baseball; was one of the finalists for 2018 Peace and Sport Award – a major recognition for their hard work, which they don’t plan to stop any time soon.
“The narrative of today’s world is one of division and conflict. My observation is that if we go through life only focusing on differences, we will find them and we will stay divided. However, if we celebrate commonalities, while honestly acknowledging our differences, then the chance for true understanding can result. Historically, sport has the unique ability to bring people together because it gives us a chance to work toward a common goal, thereby highlighting commonalities and allowing us to see the humanity in our fellow man. The friendships that result from sport can be lasting and impact the way we interact with one another.”
Egypt is only the beginning. Over the next 15 years, Because Baseball plans to share baseball with youth all over the Middle East. I am excited to see the first Major League Baseball player emerge from the region – what a great story it will be!
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