“Here’s to the ones who dream, Foolish as they may seem,” most of you would recall this line from Oscar-winning title La La Land, which talks about aspirations and dreams in real life. A few weeks back we met the co-founder of Grand Slam Baseball, Raunaq Sahni, who shared a different kind of reel-life-inspired real story about never giving up on dreams.
Of course, unlike movies, it wasn’t a musical journey for him and his partner Jackson Golden, as it took them almost four years to build India’s first professional size baseball field and start the Grand Slam Baseball club in India for local players. The initiative started in collaboration with Major League Baseball (world’s biggest baseball organisation) currently trains almost 400 players, both girls and boys, from various schools in Delhi NCR region.
The baseball field is called the ‘Field of Dreams’ was officially launched last month in Pushpanjali Farms near Delhi. The Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel, who was present at the launch, mentions how after cricket this could become a popular sport in India as it’s not very expensive and just requires a bat and ball.
As baseball is now part of Olympics, former player and founder of the baseball club Raunaq Sahni, mentions that his initiative aims to develop a sporting culture in India where free membership and training can be given to baseball athletes from government schools. The current league has players from private schools, government schools and international schools, and the first friendly match happened between mixed teams at the launch event.
So how was the idea of starting a baseball league in India conceptualised? We ask. To which 25-year-old Mr Sahni replies, “My best friend and I live nearby and the current ‘field of dreams’ was where we played baseball for the first time. The name was also inspired by an American movie by the same name where the lead actor Kevin Costner (a devoted baseball fan) dreams of building a baseball field in his backyard, and he hopes that the Major League will come and play there. For us, it was a similar case where we decided to start a baseball league in India and thought of introducing the game to local kids in India.”
It was a very slow process, and four years ago when the duo started the training camps there were hardly any people who showed interest. “We invited the state players and kids from international schools to play, and the American Embassy showed interest so we started with 17-18 students at that time. We started introducing the program to schools and it picked up from there, today we have around 400-500 people in the league. The embassy couldn’t take more than 60 players at a time, so we deiced to build our own team. It was a slow process, but finally, we have it ready after four years,” adds Mr Sahani.
Initially, it was challenging for the founders to convince schools to introduce baseball in the curriculum because it is not a popular game, but they were very confident about bringing a different sporting culture so they didn’t give up. Mr Sahni mentions, “The academy has coaches from Major League baseball that trains people here for coaching young players at grass root level. We plan to teach the sport to young players so they can hone their game and go ahead to play at international level. We also train girls, who mostly play softball. This time for Olympics we have both softball and baseball so the preparations for that will be our next goal. Our aim is to create at least one player from India, who can play at Major League Baseball and inspire others in the country to look beyond cricket. There are some Indian players who are playing really well currently like Rinku Singh, Dinesh Patel and Jasveer Rakar (Indian-Canadian player), and we want them to play at the global level.”
The field played host to a team of five international baseball experts, who trained the trainers in India. The camp for two weeks was also attended by 100 baseball athletes from the National Capital Region, including 40 girls from the Delhi State team.