BASEBALL IN THE LAND OF THE SAND
I admit that as I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more of a homebody. So, when Team Rhino Sports, the only baseball/softball training academy in the Middle East, invited me to assist with a camp for the Dubai Little League, it took more than a little nudging to pack my suitcase and make the journey to the “Land of the Sand.” But, with passport in hand and one of the best Reds Camp instructors at my side, Isaac Valdez and I boarded a plane for the 15 hour flight to Dubai.
For the geographically challenged, of which I am a charter member, Dubai is a city in the emirate of Dubai which is part of the country of the United Arab Emirates. Think of it as New York City in the state of New York in the country of the United States. That may be where the similarities end. Dubai is a Muslim emirate sitting on the Persian Gulf not so very far from places we hear about every day…and not often in a good way.
In the city of Dubai, you can play a spectacular golf course in the morning, eat lunch at the world’s tallest building, shop in the world’s largest shopping mall and finish the day by skiing indoors at another enormous shopping mall…no kidding. The wealth and opulence are incredible. Roger Federer gave a tennis lesson yesterday to one of the camp kids and Rihanna is performing tonight just up the road in Abu Dhabi…not very often I get to write “Abu Dhabi” so I had to throw that in. Dubai is where the Arabs come to relax as well as a whole bunch of famous American entertainers.
And then there is baseball. I really didn’t know what to expect from the Dubai Little League but what I found was an organization that is trying to hang on to a piece of their heritage which happens to be embedded in a rare patch of green that serves as home to the 400 kids of the Dubai Little League.
This is the morning of the last day of camp and what I’ve experienced isn’t whole lot different than Reds Camp in Centerville or Mason. Yes, the kids are from Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia but they got those addresses by way of Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Washington, etc. In other words, these are American children of “expats” who have been raised to love baseball and their MLB teams just like we do. They are following the playoffs like their counterparts in America except for the fact that the games usually start around 4am local time.
It’s been a remarkable experience and I feel blessed to be a part of these kids’ baseball lives. It’s going to be 105 degrees today and you have to be careful as the sun and heat can flatten you like an Aroldis Chapman fastball. Other than the heat, the only threat to my health in this Middle Eastern country was the teenage Dubai Royal firing past our car at about 200mph in his Ferrari on our way to the baseball fields yesterday…
Until next time, “If you’re gonna swing, might as well swing hard.”
Isaac Valdez and I at Dubai’s “Field of Dreams” with the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building) in the background.