Japan has pitcher Hideo Nomo (Detroit Tigers), the Dominican Republic has Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs), Venezuela has Omar Vizquel (Cleveland Indians), and South Africa has .... really no homegrown hero to root for.
Major League Baseball is looking to change that. Its hope is to make the game more international.
Over the past three years, MLB has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to supply elementary schools in South Africa with bats and balls, and it's given classes to physical-education teachers (who must learn the game as well). Now South African baseball is also attracting attention from major league scouts.
For the first time, South Africa's national baseball team will compete at the Sydney Olympics. It will open the tournament against Cuba Sept. 17.
"We want the game to be everywhere...," says Paul Archey, vice president for international business operations of MLB, "Africa being one part of the world where it's not widely played. South Africa was a natural place for us to go to develop the game."
Q: Where and when did Major League Baseball begin its international-development program?
A: In Australia, in 1993. It then expanded to Britain, Germany, and South Africa. Next up: Mexico and Italy.
Q: Will any South African players be playing in the US?
A: Paul Bell and Wesley Botha are top candidates. The 19-year-old Bell, who is black and a shortstop, signed a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Botha, an 18-year-old white pitcher, signed a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves this year. Both will play on their national team in Sydney.
Q: Why hasn't baseball taken off in South Africa?
A: Probably because rugby, cricket, and soccer are so deeply rooted in the culture. Baseball has never reached the popularity of these three sports; it still has a long way to go.
But "I think it's only going to get better," says Allard Baird, general manager of the Kansas City Royals. "We understand it's going to take time, but we want to make sure we're there."
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