Africa finally gets to bat in the Little League Baseball World Series.
For the first time in the series’ 66-year history, a team from Africa will vie for the championship when the summer classic begins next month in Williamsport, Pa.
The Lugazi Little League from, Lugazi, Uganda, qualified for the series by defeating a team from Kuwait City 5-2 last week to capture the Middle East & Africa Tournament, a five-team series played in Poland.
The victory and series berth were especially sweet for the Lugazi team because a different Uganda squad earned a spot in the World Series last year but couldn’t play because the U.S. State Department denied the players visas because of discrepancies over their ages.
The 2011 Uganda team knocked off Saudi Arabia, a perennial baseball power. The Saudi team wound up going to Williamsport because of the visa flap.
“After last year’s World Series, we met with State Department officials to work on ways to avoid a repeat of last year’s unfortunate situation,” said Patrick W. Wilson, Little League International’s senior vice president of operations and program development. “The meetings focused on ensuring that all players on the team, as well as the manager and coaches, would have all the necessary paperwork before the Uganda national championship team even traveled to Poland for the regional tournament.”
After clinching a World Series berth, the Uganda team almost immediately began working on getting the proper documentation to apply for visas at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala to avoid last year’s heart-breaking rejection.
Uganda government officials were so angry and crushed by the State Department’s decision last year that the vice chairman of the country’s National Council of Sports called for an investigation and vowed to punish any Ugandans who were guilty or who were involved in any carelessness or wrongdoing in connection with the visa applications.
"What happened shames our country and we should not encourage it," Godfrey Mabirizi, the national sports council vice chair, told the Associated Press last year. "Unless USA has other reasons for denying the players visas, but if it is because of lying age or disorganized documents then it is unfortunate."
Little League Baseball officials expressed confidence last week that history won’t repeat itself this year.
“In the months since our meetings with the U.S. State Department, we have been working with the local Little Leagues in Uganda on the methods to obtain the proper documents,” Wilson said. “We are grateful to the State Department for its assistance. As a result, we are now cautiously optimistic that the Uganda team will be joining us next month in South Williamsport for the 66th Little League Baseball World Series.”
Little League baseball has come a long way in a short period of time in Africa. The Ugandan Little League was chartered in 2005. Lugazi is a city in southeastern Uganda, about 31 miles from the capital city of Kampala. The Lugazi Little League is one of five chartered Little Leagues in the country. More than 700 boys and girls currently play Little League baseball and softball in Uganda.
In winning the Middle East & Africa tournament, the Lugazi team suffered only one loss, a 2-1 defeat to the Arabian American Little League in its first game. The Lugazi squad only allowed five runs in its five tournament games.
The African team joins Little League squads from Aguadulce, Panama; Tokyo, Japan; Taoyuan County, Chinese Taipei; and Willemstad, Curacao, in the 16-team world series field. The players from Lugazi will likely draw a lot of national and international media attention during the World Series, which is in prime time on ESPN and ABC.
The Lugazi team will play its first World Series game on Aug. 17, against Aguadulce Cabezera of Panama, the Latin America Region Champion.