'Having baseball in Dubai is a dream come true,' says Palestinian player

Yunis Halim is one of eight 'prospect' players for Baseball United's All-Star Showcase this weekend

Palestine baseball player Yunis Halim at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Pawan Singh / The National
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Yunis Halim’s latest trip to the Middle East has brought with it conflicting emotions.

This weekend, he will be living out a lifetime ambition by rubbing shoulders with stars of baseball from the country of his birth, as the sport makes its professional debut in Dubai.

And yet it is also difficult to escape for long from the thoughts of the war in his homeland.

“We are just praying for unity, and to stop the violence all over the world,” Halim, 26, said.

“We really want peace and unity, and everybody to have a safe world. We don’t want violence anywhere in the world.”

Halim plays international baseball for Palestine. He has been selected as one of the eight “prospect” players for the Baseball United All-Star Showcase at Dubai International Stadium this weekend.

The plans for the launch of pro baseball in the region initially included four teams and three days of games. Instead, it has been scaled back due to the onset of the conflict.

Now there will be two sides – East All-Stars and West All-Stars – who will play each other on Friday and Saturday.

Halim has been included in the roster for the West team, although he knows who he is really representing.

“Baseball United is a beautiful thing,” he said. “It shows that people from Palestine, from Pakistan, from Europe, from all over the world can play baseball.

“The future is here. There are always players from all over the world who can play. For me, I’m hoping that Palestinian people can look up to me and say, ‘Hey, he is playing baseball at a big level, maybe I can be like him one day.’

“It is very deep in my heart. It is motivating me to think kids could look up to me, and I have to represent them the right way.”

Halim’s journey to representing Palestine was an unlikely one. He was born and raised in Chicago, to parents who had immigrated from Gaza.

His father did not take to America’s pastime specifically in a bid to fit into his new surroundings. He had long since held a passion for the sport while living in his homeland.

And son Halim says he had no choice but to inherit that same passion.

“I was born in Chicago but go every year to Palestine to see family,” Halim said.

“I grew up playing baseball as my father had done in Palestine. Growing up, the only thing he would put me in would be baseball.

“I would jump into different sports, then he would say, ‘No, get into baseball. More baseball. Baseball, baseball, baseball.’ He loved this, so I continued playing it.

“He sent me a newspaper cutting the other day of him playing catcher, and he always tells me he was better than me.

“I was like, ‘You never played baseball!’ But he did, a long time ago when he was little in Palestine. I will have to send him pictures of me here.”

Halim deems himself a “utility guy,” as a pitcher who is also at ease playing fielder either in the outfield or the infield.

After playing the game at college level in Chicago, he had eyed a professional career in the sport overseas.

He had offers to play in Australia and Germany, but they were scuppered by the spread of Covid. When that door shut, though, another unexpectedly opened.

“Covid put an end to all sports around the world, so I stopped playing,” he said.

“Then a couple of years later Team Palestine called me and I started playing with them. I got a call a couple of years ago saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Why don’t you come and play for your country?’ I said, ‘Why not?’”

The Palestine national baseball team includes a handful of players from Gaza, with the rest made up of diaspora players based in the United States.

Halim has been a useful recruit for them. He was their most valuable player when they finished second to Pakistan in the West Asia Cup in Islamabad earlier this year.

It was there that he pressed his case for selection for the Baseball United showcase matches.

“This is a dream come true,” he said. “Nobody ever believed baseball would come to Dubai.

“They made it happen. It is unbelievable having all the pros over here. This is going to be very big for the future.”

Updated: November 23, 2023, 2:38 AM