By Alexia Diamond
His 5 am training schedule means Aditya Kathane needs to be an early riser. He then has classes and afternoon practice before reaching home at 6 in the evening. The 15-year-old from Gurgaon isn't complaining since he enjoys being the catcher for his baseball team.
“Baseball is something that's just not a sport for me. It's helped me focus more in life and has created a set pattern which I'm able to follow,” Aditya says. Baseball is not a sport many play or even watch in India. But its has a few backers who vouch for its potential.
“Baseball has unlimited scope to be lucrative in India. Our nation is big,” according to Harish Kumar, secretary general of the Amateur Baseball Federation of India (ABFI). And some kids are willing to take a chance on that perceived potential.
Aditya says his interest in baseball started with the well-known Japanese cartoon series “Doraemon”, and a small informational stall in his school. “Once I played it, I really enjoyed it and made it my main sport,” he adds.
Dozens of private and government school kids recently participated in what is widely considered to be India’s first baseball tournament at the state level conducted on a proper baseball field in Haryana. From pitching to running to first base, some teams were in street clothes and others in uniforms. Most kids didn’t wear a helmet because they had never practised in one.
In the absence of baseball games on television, Aditya, for one, imbibes skills from an altogether different source. “I’d rather watch many videos of the best plays and then learn from that,” he says. The youngster watches couple of hours of plays a week and follows a popular American catcher– J. T. Realmuto of the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball. “Baseball's popularity is actually growing day by day… In other states, even if they know the game, they don’t know the plays. They’re just playing ‘throw and hit the ball’.”
Even though not many understand the intricacies of the sport, it can attract an audience. “The district championship in Gurgaon had over 1,000 spectators and since the venue was close to schools, a large number of students came as well,” said Raunaq Sahni, founder of Grand Slam Baseball (GSB) who sponsored the tournament. More spectators means more exposure for baseball players, who could be spotted by recruiters for national or foreign teams. Another goal of ABFI is to improve the quality of the national team.
Sahni claims that 15 of their players made it to the nationals and five of GSB’s coaches have played for the national team.
Dream of representing country
Prikshit Yadav, a 16-year-old pitcher from Gurgaon, is Aditya's teammate and says his dream is to represent India in baseball and then join the MLB but to get there comes with work. “As a catcher and him [Yadav] as the pitcher, we have a really good bond regarding how to pitch. We don’t even have to talk about it,” said Aditya.
GSB, a non-profit organisation, offers baseball training, tournaments and opportunities to private and government students in 17 schools. Three of these schools run off-and-on programmes since the size of their fields is limited and they have to divide the space between other sports.
Sahni said the organisation needs to provide facilities and proper equipment for the players to make sure it’s an level playing field between private and government schools. Another objective is to make baseball and its players more popular. GSB promotes its players by putting up billboards outside schools to give the club an identity. “It’s just to highlight those players who compete in the state tournament, so that they are kind of perceived as ‘heroes’,” Sahni says.
Although the concept of school spirit seems a foreign approach to sports in Indian schools, it's a start to get basic interest in baseball. “We have to create a model where our private school players generate the resources… because not only are government schools the backbone of the player base, it’s also the backbone of the entire system,” he says.
But no sport can flourish without a something more than just enjoyment for its players. Aditya says they receive certificates from the government. “These certificates will help me in college as well. I would like to continue the sport to represent my college too.”
(Alexia Daimond is an intern with The Indian Express)