Players from Uganda and Canada meet for the first time.
KAMPALA, Uganda -- Down the dusty road they came, jogging past the diamonds carved into farmland, toward the players who had come halfway across the world for a baseball game. They should have met five months ago in Williamsport, Pa., but maybe it was better that they do it here, in Nakirebe, Uganda, at a baseball complex that can only be described as, pardon the cliché, ekisaawes kye ebiroto. That's Lugandan for "fields of dreams."
Applause filled the hills as they shook hands, Jonah with Trevor, Gingo with Connor, Augustus with Colby, Khana with Nick …
After introductions by the coaches, George Mukhobe for the players he had nurtured in Uganda, Dean Cantelon for the Little Leaguers from Langley, British Columbia, the kids gathered up their stuff for a combined practice. "I couldn't stop bawling," said Christine Ens, the mother of Riley, a first baseman/pitcher for Langley.
Despite the rust from not having played competitively since the World Series, the Canadians looked good and ready for the big game Tuesday.
But one look at the Ugandans, who have been practicing day in and day out for weeks, and you know exactly what Jimmy Rollins means when he says, "Man, they can play."
Former major league baseball player Gregg Zaun gives instructions to Ugandan players.
When Rollins first saw filmmaker Jay Shapiro's piece on Ugandan baseball on the Aug. 14 "SportsCenter," he tweeted his appreciation, and Shapiro reached out to him. "I talked to a lot of players," Shapiro said, "but Jimmy stayed in it for the long haul."
The Rollins Family Foundation provided $10,000 for the Pearl of Africa Series between the Ugandan Little Leaguers who were denied a trip to Williamsport, Pa., because of visa problems, and the team from Langley, British Columbia, that they were supposed to play in the first round. But it's Rollins' effervescent presence that has made an even bigger difference.
This can't be said enough: The Ugandans can play. "They are so fluid and natural," said first baseman Derrek Lee, who's here with his brother, Bryan, to lend a hand. "None of the robotic stuff you see in America, where we're probably overcoached."
Ivan Luyombya pitches to Yi-An Pan, with Cole Cantelon on second with two outs in the top of the sixth.
NAKIREBE, Uganda -- They call it "the Ugandan finish." After a victory, Ugandan baseball players run into the outfield and launch themselves into an all-out slide...They'll play again later this week, near the source of the Nile in Jinja, but not before going on a safari together at Lake Mburo National Park. The trip will be as eye-opening for the Ugandans as it will be for the Canadians because most of the players have never been able to afford to travel around their own country.
As for the 200 or so witnesses, well, they not only saw a great game -- "I especially liked it that the little guy scored the winning run," Rollins said -- but a great beginning.
Call it the Ugandan start.
Ugandan Little League players celebrate their 2-1 victory against the Canadian team from Langley, British Columbia. Felix "Abooki" Barugahare is hoisted on his teammates shoulders after scoring the winning run.
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The Caribbean Series gets under way Thursday, pitting the winners of the four Winter League winners against each other. Each team will play the other three squads twice, with the top two teams advancing to the championship Feb. 8. Obregon will represent the Mexican Pacific League after sweeping its best-of-7 series with Guasave; Aragua toppled La Guaira, 4-2, in the Venezuelan Winter League Championship Series; and Mayaguez triumphed over Caguas, 5-2, in the best-of-9 Puerto Rican Winter League Finals.