Dubai Little League
The Dubai Little League team on an away trip to Kuwait in 2016 with Dubai Little League President Roger Duthie (back row). Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The American sport is gaining in popularity in the UAE with the arrival of NBA and Roger Duthie, President of the Dubai Little League, says baseball is booming in this market and is confident of seeing a UAE-born player to be drafted in the big leagues after Ollie Duthie complete in his first season of college baseball in the USA and Canada.

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your history in Dubai with the Dubai Little League?

It is my fifth year as President and my 17th year volunteering, from coaching to various roles to finally getting voted in by the Board five years ago to become President. I had three main goals when I first took over: 1. Get more sponsors on board because without the financial support we can’t play baseball. 2. Give those kids who have the potential of playing at the next level an opportunity to do so. 3. To improve the facilities on and off the field.

Is baseball growing in Dubai?

As Major League Baseball (MLB) Season gets under way Stateside, it’s becoming more evident each year that this sport is no longer just America’s pastime. A total of 275 players represented 21 different countries and territories outside of the 50 United States on 2022 Opening Day. In Dubai, we have been growing and expect to surpass the pre-Covid season in terms of number of players. Baseball is booming in this market.

Are the Youngsters in Dubai progressing to the next level?

One day in the future, we expect there to be a UAE-born or raised player drafted in the big leagues who started out in Dubai Little League. Dubai recently saw the first UAE-born player, Ollie Duthie, complete in his first season of college baseball in the USA and Canada. We have had many kids who grew up playing baseball in Dubai Little League play college ball over the years. Those early success stories really spurred on Ollie and the others from last season. Jack Chapleski and Mattia Sparincino also play baseball in America. All three boys grew up together playing baseball in Dubai Little League.

Max Lebrato leads the way. He played in the Dubai Little League from 2002-2014 and left for university baseball in 2014 on a scholarship while his father, Joe Lebrato, was one of the first Dubai Little League Presidents from 2004-2008. A few years later, John Fekete took over the leadership role while his son Sean Fekete played in Dubai from 2011-2018 and now currently is playing Division 1 baseball in the US.

It’s no secret that if a child is keen and happy to spend time working on his or her craft, parents must be supportive which means a lot of driving to and from various sporting facilities not to mention the GCC travel and international travel.

And not coincidentally two of the last three Dubai Little League Presidents have had or currently have children playing college baseball.

We anticipate we will have a few more kids from this year’s group play baseball in the United States next season. Our top players this year include some great baseball players, such as Jibran Murtaza, Benjamin Anderson, Joshua Jamal, Noah McFadzean and Jaccob Essick. All are skilled enough to continue playing baseball in America and most of those boys have been playing in the Dubai Little League for at least the past 10 seasons.

One of my goals is to get more of our softball female athletes recognised too and we hope to see some female players awarded scholarships in the future.

The game of baseball in the Middle East is thriving and the Dubai Little League is no longer a hidden gem but a popular place for an international community to enjoy the global game.

How active is the Dubai Little League and the Adult Baseball Teams?

The Dubai Little League also has a men’s Adult Baseball League consisting of teams with players predominantly from Japan, Korea, North America, Latin America and Europe. There is an adult softball league too with mixed-gender teams as well. Baseball and softball in this market is thriving. The growth of the game is one thing, but to grow the sport with so many different nationalities is another challenge altogether, but we are getting there and I am most proud of the diversity and inclusive community we have built.

What is your biggest challenge with the Dubai Little League?

Although the game itself is hugely popular, our constant issue and challenge is funding. We need more funding for our facilities as we are the most expensive Little League organisation to operate in the world. As baseball is growing in the Middle East and Dubai is leading the way, sadly our sponsorship and funding is dwindling, and I would hate to have to close the gates due to funding.

How can someone get in touch with you should they be interested in sponsoring or playing?

We have all social media channels so people check us out there but we can also be reached on president@littleleague.