GCC, Indian and Pakistani players to get their shot when pro baseball launches in Dubai

Prospects from region to join professional players when Baseball United's Dubai Showcase starts in November

Former MLB stars Felix Hernandez, centre, and Adrian Beltre, right, with Baseball United’s chief executive Kash Shaikh, left, at the official launch of Baseball United’s Dubai Showcase on Thursday, August 3, 2023. All photos: Antonie Robertson / The National
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Eight aspiring baseball players from India and Pakistan will join the ranks of professional teams when the sport has its first pro event in the UAE in November.

Four matches will take place from Friday, November 10, to Sunday, November 12, at the Dubai International Stadium as part of the Baseball United Dubai Showcase.

The opening match will pit Mumbai Cobras against Karachi Monarchs, in a fixture the organisers say is part of their mission for “baseball diplomacy”.

The two other sides in the competition were announced on Thursday and will represent cities in the host country: Abu Dhabi Falcons and Dubai Wolves.

The sides will draw their squads from a draft to be staged in September, and mainly comprise professional players from the US and other established baseball nations.

While Major League Baseball rosters usually have 26 players, the teams in Dubai will be condensed to 20 for the three-day competition – 13 position players and seven pitchers.

That will include 16 professional players, as well as four prospects each from closer to home.

Four will be from India, four from Pakistan, and eight “from other countries in the region,” according to Kash Shaikh, the chief executive and majority owner of Baseball United.

“Today, there are not too many players who could compete at the professional level,” Shaikh said.

“It is not that they don’t have tools and talent. The best pitcher in India throws at 91mph. He has a great career ahead of him. There are kids who can play here.

“We are starting with prospects, but our goal is to have as many people from the region playing [as possible] and not just in our league.

“There are a lot of other professional baseball leagues around the world – Latin America, East Asia. We want to develop kids. This a real opportunity.”

Shaikh and his fellow management team have grand plans for the sport in the region.

They have a 15-year agreement with Emirates Cricket Board to stage matches in the UAE.

While November’s opening event is just three days, they plan to extend to a three-weekend series in 2024, with eight franchises playing in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

The following year, they plan an additional competition in Saudi Arabia.

Thursday's launch event in Dubai Sports City was attended by former MLB stars Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre and Nick Swisher, who are all stakeholders in the competition.

Swisher, a former World Series champion with the New York Yankees, hopes to have a lasting impact, in particular by mentoring the aspiring players.

“All you can ask for is an opportunity,” said Swisher, who hit 245 home runs in his career in the MLB.

“We are able to give those 16 [prospects] an opportunity. I can’t wait to meet them and work with them, and put our hands on the final product.

“At the end of the day, maybe they go play in different part of the world, but come from Baseball United and be part of our family from the start.”

Music concerts are planned for each night of the tournament weekend in November, as the organisers seek to find ways to appeal to a region where baseball is far from being a traditional sport.

“I have been at this stadium when India have played Pakistan at the Asia Cup and it has been packed,” said Shaikh, who was born in Texas and has an Indian father and Pakistani mother.

“I have also been here for cricket matches where there weren’t very many people here.

“That is a massive challenge and a massive opportunity. The baseball fan is not the cricket fan.

“We feel we have a clear point of difference. If you look from a business- building standpoint, cricket is closer to the value end of that portfolio, and baseball is closer to the premium end.

“We have an opportunity for the ECB, Dubai Sports City, Dubai International Stadium, and this country, to grow and learn the whole spectrum of bat and ball.

“The other thing we have to do is make it much more exciting.”

Updated: August 03, 2023, 2:56 PM