Governor-General David Johnston was in Langley on Monday afternoon, to formally recognize the Langley Little League team which went to Uganda last year to play an exhibition series against a Ugandan team that was unable to take part on the Little League World Series in 2011.
The team received a “Caring Canadian” award, as did Ruth Hoffman of Vancouver, who played a key role in raising funds and awareness so that the Langley team could make the trip.
For those who have not yet seen it, I highly recommend the TV documentary ‘Fair Ball,” produced and shown by Sportsnet. This is the web link to that show — http://www.sportsnet.ca/fair-ball-from-canada-to-uganda/
The TV documentary was a powerful message about the differences in living conditions between Canada and Uganda, and how a love of baseball allowed kids from both countries to meet as equals on the field, and build friendships and mutual respect for one another.
The Ugandan team was the first from Africa to qualify to play at the Little League World Series, which is played each year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, team members were unable to get visas to enter the U.S., likely because it was difficult for some of them to provide complete personal information. The U.S. is very vigilant about who enters their country, and that vigilance, while necessary, keeps some worthy people, like these young ball players, out.
The Langley team, which had also qualified to go to Williamsport, was scheduled to play the Ugandans there. As they couldn’t do so in the U.S., a fundraising drive to make the match happen started upon their return home. Hoffman was a key part of that, enlisting the “Right to Play” organization. Sportsnet chipped in as well, as did Sportsnet baseball analyst and former major leaguer Gregg Zaun.
Many Langley residents pitched in and contributed to this drive, which allowed the Langley Little Leaguers to travel to Uganda in January, 2012 to play their long-delayed games.
The documentary showed what an eye-opener it was for the Canadian team members to visit the African country, and find out how kids their age live each day.
While their baseball field was nothing like the fine fields provided in Langley, they were very usable and the teams had some great games there.
Baseball, like all sports, offers many opportunities. It’s a relatively simple game and doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment. It can easily be taken up by people in countries with fewer resources than Canada. Soccer is much the same.
Proof of how baseball can change lives can be seen in many countries. The Dominican Republic may be the best example. It is a poor country, but baseball is huge and some of Major League Baseball’s best players come from there.
It may well be that a Ugandan ball player makes it to the majors one day. But even if that’s a ways away, the Langley team has proven baseball can bridge cultural divides.