Dubai: A discussion on baseball in this part of the world might not generate great interest. Or that’s what we all thought. Picture this: India has 53 million avid baseball fans, Pakistan has 12-1/2 million, Saudi Arabia has 1.5 million and UAE has 800,000.
Overwhelming numbers right. That’s the strong fanbase Baseball United is planning to tap into with the first-ever professional baseball league that is focused on the Middle East region and the Indian subcontinent.
“There are way more baseball fans than we can imagine. These are not casual fans but those who are engaging themselves in the sport some way or the other,” said Kash Shaikh, President and CEO of Baseball United, during the launch of the two franchises — Dubai Wolves and Abu Dhabi Falcons — at Dubai Sports City on Thursday.
“When we started working on the league we focused on the 50,000-plus American fans based here. But there are a ton more and they are actually premium fan base,” Shaikh added.
The new Middle East franchises will compete against the Mumbai Cobras and the Karachi Monarchs in the league’s Dubai Showcase that will take place on November 10 to 12 at the Dubai International Stadium.
“We will have the four franchises playing just four games to give a taste of what it looks like to all those baseball fans. Next year is our first full season. We will have eight franchises with the remaining four franchises to be announced later. We will have 65 games — 56 regular season games and nine play-off games. At least half of them will be played in Dubai Stadium and some games in Abu Dhabi and as well as Doha,” Shaikh added.
20 players in each team
The teams will have 20 players for the inaugural event, which will include 13 position players and seven pitchers. Among this will be 16 professional players and four prospects each.
“We will have four each from India, Pakistan and eight from other countries in the region. The truth is today there are not too many players that can compete at the professional level. It’s not that they don’t have tools and talent. The best pitcher in India throws at 91 miles per hour. He has a great career ahead of him. There are kids who can play here.
“Hence, we are bringing a training curriculum here and setting up a proper training programme. We are starting with prospects, but our goal is to have as many player from the region playing and not just in our league. We want to develop kids. This a real opportunity. It’s a long term journey and we are excited about this,” said Shaikh.
'Love this game'
Former Major League Baseball outfielder and first baseman, Nick Swisher, who joined Baseball United recently said: “I love this game so much and it has given me so much in life. I have been so blessed to be part of this game and now it’s time to give back and ensure the youngsters have the same opportunity that I got.
“Baseball United in the Middle East will provide that opportunity and I’m proud to be part of it.
“I would love to see kids grow in this sport and I can’t wait for the big day and see this amazing project take off,” the Ohio native said.
The league will also have music concerts for each night of the tournament weekend in November.
The league was announced on the heels of Baseball United’s historic partnership with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), which awarded Baseball United a 15-year term to host its league in the UAE. “The partnerships that we continue to forge here in the UAE have given us the momentum and support necessary to build this league the right way,” said John Miedreich, Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations and Co-Owner, Baseball United. “We are grateful to all the people and organisations who have joined us on this pursuit, and we’re looking forward to even more partners teaming with us in the future.”
November 10, Friday (7pm): Mumbai Cobras v Karachi Monarchs
November 11, Saturday (2pm): Abu Dhabi Falcons v Karachi Monarchs
November 11, Saturday (6pm): Dubai Wolves v Mumbai Cobras
November 12, Sunday (6pm): Dubai Wolves v Abu Dhabi Falcons