On the shores of Nigeria, baseball has not been a commonly played sport. But there is an ongoing attempt to bring this game to Nigeria by a group of people from diverse backgrounds but with the same objective. These people are Gerard Hall, a baseball coach, Kehinde Laniyan, a Nigerian baseball league administrator with a burning zeal for the spread of the game, Ronke Champion, a lover of baseball, and Ray Thomas, a retired FBI agent.
Over the years, the crew has put in rigorous effort in laying a foundation for baseball in Nigeria, which they hope will be a fertile ground for the game. Gerard Hall was an administrator and a coach for DC Knights and Woodridge Warriors Little League back at Washington DC, where he dedicated his time to revamp the game of baseball. With Kehinde Laniyan being a native, they have been able to penetrate Nigeria, making annual trips to pave the way for the game, creating awareness, and donating baseball equipment primarily.
Laniyan has been a strong pillar in developing the sport in Nigeria. Being the District Administrator for the Little League program in the country, he has set up an impressive number of teams in the country, giving everything to ensure the game thrives. Starting as the secretary of the Nigeria Baseball and Softball Association (NBSA) in 1992 and indicating interest again in 2012, Laniyan’s passion for the game, especially the Little League, cannot be gainsaid. Hall, in an interview, asserts it in his statement, “He really wants to grow baseball, Little League particularly.”
On this crusade, Laniyan is not the only one who burns with this passion. Ronke Champion, a Nigerian-born strong supporter of the game, has, on many occasions, aired out her visions and dreams concerning the establishment and growth of the game in Nigeria. “I wanted to give something back, and sports is my passion,” she proclaimed, in a bid to express how much she supports grounding baseball in Nigeria particularly. She has actively supported the annual trips to Nigeria and has shared with Hall a dream of building a sports complex, which will primarily be for baseball leagues and training. Champion has shown strong faith in baseball in Nigeria, hoping that the game will skyrocket and “produce college scholarships and even a big-leaguer down the road.”
In bringing the game to Nigeria, the popularity of the sport in Africa has a massive chance of gaining ground. It is because Nigeria is one of the most populated countries in Africa, having a population of about 200 million people spread across 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory. The task of establishing baseball in the country has not generally been easy; the endeavor has had its ups and downs, one of them being the rigorous process of making Laniyan the new District Administrator for Nigeria’s youth baseball.
The team hopes to build a facility in the city of Ibadan in Oyo state. Working with the government for four years to achieve this proved to be an uphill task. Since setting up the facility is the goal, the group decided to try building on land belonging to a private school instead of waiting on the support of the Nigerian government.
Along the line came Ray Thomas, another supportive partner, who identified with the problems encountered by the group while working with the government. As a retired FBI agent, Thomas was abreast of the security challenges of the country. He took several precautionary steps in that regard, including keeping their visit to Lagos off social media to avoid any form of robbery or harassment.
Apart from the insecurity in the country, Thomas identified the problem of lack of sufficient baseball equipment. Baseball gloves and bats were found to be insufficient, and shipping these would not be easy, although Thomas said he had sent about eight boxes of equipment, which “evaporated,” as he put it. This unavailability of sporting equipment seemed to be one reason the native Little League administrators were not high-spirited and expressed their distrust subtly.
Bringing the game to Nigeria is a shot at spreading the fame of Major League Baseball across Africa and the world at large. In China, baseball development centers have been built to train Chinese children and offer free education. It is not any different in the African continent where the MLB established The Elite Development Programs in South Africa.
The team has put so much faith in Nigeria, hoping that the game settles, gathering fandom and producing great talent. Like the answer to a prayer, Hall found two 13-year olds who broke the record of Sajon Belser, a high-schooler in Virginia, who ran the 60-yard dash in 6.9 seconds. These 13-year-olds surprised Hall by running the 60 in 6.7 seconds and doing better at the second trial in 6.5 seconds. However, Hall was still skeptical about their readiness for the Europe-Africa tournament because they train with substandard facilities. Despite all these setbacks, the future of baseball in Nigeria seems bright.