New Delhi, Feb 12: To most Indians, a mere mention of baseball gives them an impression about a game similar to cricket which is being played in the United States of America. Played with a round bat, unlike flat willows in cricket, the sport of baseball has a few takers in a cricket-crazy like ours.
But what if we told you that game of baseball has been in India for good three decades and that professional baseball players in India even end up earning government jobs along with the prospects of representing the country at international level.
The baseball and softball teams in India hardly get any mention in the media for the country's obsession with cricket forces every sport to take a back seat. But things are changing, slowly and steadily.
Kids, under the age of 12, at schools have started taking the game seriously and despite the lack of infrastructure, there are a few academies and schools helping the kids shape-up their career in the sport which is perceived as a sport of the West by many.
Badbulls Sports Club is one of the premier baseball training academies in India which is nurturing the kids in Delhi-NCR in the sport and even working towards providing an international platform to these kids to showcase their talents.
In a recently concluded U-12 and U-14 tournament organised by Badbulls, teams from Delhi, Gurugram, Bengaluru, and Mumbai participated. During this tournament, held on the US Embassy baseball ground in New Delhi, enthusiastic players were also evaluated to participate at the Asia Pacific Little League Tournament scheduled to be held at Seoul, South Korea in June 2019.
An eight-year-old kid named Adi from Bengaluru was the youngest player in the tournament and while talking to Mykhel he said that he wants to be a professional baseball player. Another kid from the Bengaluru team said his father has already started discussing with Sports Authority of India on how to get him into the reckoning for the national baseball team.
Mykhel chatted with Badbulls' Bretto Stephens, Anthony Vanarajah and Edvin Messi at length about the role their academy is playing to promote the sport of baseball at the grassroots level. They even revealed how this sport is taking positive strides in a country, where there is hardly any infrastructure for the sport to prosper.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation:
Mykhel: What's your vision and objective behind organising this tournament, what is the response you are getting?
Badbulls: Our vision is to provide a platform to the young kids where we nurture them at the school level, mature them with the basics of the game so that they can continue playing the game at the college level. From the college, these kids can eventually land themselves a job in this sport, so that their future gets secure.
Mykhel: Do you think there is enough awareness about this sport in our country where cricket is primarily the most followed sport?
Badbulls: People India can end up landing a government job playing baseball but there is a dearth of awareness amongst the kids and parents about this sport. Baseball has been played in India for a good two to three decades and just like other sports, it can provide a sportsperson with a bright future but it's just not marketed well. As I mentioned earlier, a baseball player can also get a government job under sports quota apart from making his/her career in this particular sport. Our aim is to make shape up the career of amateur players and take them to the professional level so that they could play in the international circuit.
Mykhel: How Badbulls Sports Club is planning to promote the game of baseball in India?
Badbulls: We are looking at developing this game from the grassroots level.
Our club is tying up with various schools in the country so that the sport enters into the curriculum. We are running our academy in some schools in Delhi-NCR region we have tied up with Addidas for a ground in Gurugram where we train our kids. After the new session starts, we are planning to tie up with more schools so that this sport gets more and more exposure and attracts kids.
Baseball is listed under the School Games Federation of India (SGFI), it also falls under the CBSE school programme, so it is already there in the education system. As many as 26 states in India are playing baseball at the state and national level. But there is a lack of awareness towards the sport as parents don't know about the future prospects baseball holds for their kids.
Infrastructure is very important for a field sport like baseball, are there proper grounds in our country organise matches and train kids? How do you propose to tackle this fundamental challenge?
No, as of now there are just a handful of baseball grounds in our country and that has been a major hindrance to the promotion of the game. But as we said earlier, we have a ground in Gurugram where we are running our academy and train kids. The main logic behind tying up with the schools was that we attract the kids towards the game by simply training the kids in a small part of the ground. And I must tell you that it is working as more and more kids are taking up this game at the school level.
Our coaches train the kids in a section of ground where kids learn how to wield the bat, how to pitch the ball, etc. We are giving the basic training to the kids at school and when it comes to the match practice we'll utilise ground at Gurugram till the time we locate potential fields and develop them into a baseball field.
We'd also like to tell you that one doesn't really need a proper baseball ground to train the kids. Even in the USA, the kids don't get to spend all the time in the field. Instead, they spend most of the time sitting in the classroom with the coaches discussing their roles during the match. The coaches narrate a match situation inside the classroom and every player in the team is supposed to explain his/her role to that particular situation. That's how we also train kids in our academy.
Of course, there is a need to give them match practice, but even at the cricket academies, the players spend most of the time in the nets, honing their skills by working on their techniques, shadow practising. We are also reaching out to the corporate sector to help us promote the game, develop proper infrastructure.
Mykhel: How do you propose to change the mindset of an Indian parent who'd prefer encouraging his/her ward to pick up a more lucrative game like cricket, football, hockey or some other Olympic sport than a sport like a baseball?
Badbulls: We also have been given the responsibility of scouting U-12 and U-14 kids and create teams from India to participate in Asia Pacific Little League Tournament in Seoul, South Korea. This year, the tournament will be held in June 2019. So, we are giving a chance to the talented kids to showcase their skills at an international level. Also, the international talent scouts keep visiting India from time to time to scout Indian talents. If you have watched the Hollywood movie 'Million Dollar Arm', there's hardly anything left for us to say.
Since we have played baseball at the international level, closely watched how kids are being trained in the USA we are designing our training programme in such a way so that we can bring the best out of our kids and help them put their best foot forward in front of talent scouts, get selected by international universities and eventually play professional baseball.
Eight different states in India are already offering government jobs to baseball players under sports quota. The state of Chhattisgarh has the best baseball team in the country for the last three years, including the girls' team.
Mykhel: The gears used in the sport are also costly and that might be a big hurdle for the kids not playing it. How do you combat this challenge?
Badbulls: We ourselves are providing for the gears to the economically weaker kids. A lot of kids from government schools in Delhi are playing baseball these days and they are doing well too. So, we try to provide them with all the gears they need. Also, we request professional clubs as well as players in the USA to grant us the used equipment and gears and they willingly do so for the development of the sport. Also, we provide shoes from our own pockets to the financially weaker kids in whom we see the potential.
Mykhel: Since it resembles too much with the game of cricket, how long do you think does it take a cricketer to become a skilled baseball player?
Badbulls: The game of baseball, like any other field sport, played in the West is more of a defensive game. Hence, the players wouldn't prefer being called a batter in baseball, instead, he'd tell you about his fielding position for that is his primary role in the team. So, that's a major difference between cricket and baseball. But having said that, any skilled cricketer can become an equally skilled baseball player in a span of three months and trust us, he'll be hooked with this game so much in such a short span of time that he might actually give cricket a skip, such is the interest level involved in this game.