Pakistani baseball aspirant hopes his country embraces the sport, just like cricket

Syed Muhammad Shah, 19, will be competing at Baseball United All-Star Showcase in Dubai this weekend as a 'prospect' player

Pakistani baseball player Syed Muhammad Shah at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Pawan Singh / The National
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As he takes his first steps onto the immaculate green turf, Syed Muhammad Shah knows approximately 230 million of his compatriots would envy what he is about to do.

This weekend he will be playing professional sport at the Dubai International Stadium as a representative of Pakistan.

He knows the country’s beloved national cricket team used to call this place home. He has seen these stands pulsating with thousands of his countrymen for big matches against India, with millions more tuning in on TV.

This is a pilgrimage so many from back home would love to make. He is here with his bat and ball, too, but his motivations are slightly different.

Shah is here as a “prospect” player for the Baseball United All-Star Showcase, to be staged at the stadium in Sports City on Friday and Saturday.

He and another recruit from Pakistan, an infielder who goes by one name, Wahid, have been assigned to East All-Stars for the two-game series against West.

Shah is a catcher. He acknowledges they are among the minority in Pakistan whose bat and ball game of choice is baseball, but he wants to get the message out.

“I would love to tell people about baseball,” Shah, 19, said. “There is a lot of competition in cricket in Pakistan, but there is a favouritism in it also.

“In baseball, there's no favouritism. If you’re good enough, then you are in the team.

"I would like to suggest to people in Pakistan to play baseball. It's a similar sport and if you’re good, you'll be famous.”

Shah first came to baseball as a five-year-old schoolboy thanks to his father, who he says laid the foundations for the sport in Pakistan in 1982.

Shah made his first tour for a World Cup in Taiwan when he was just 11, and was spotted by Baseball United as one of the youngest Pakistan players at the West Asia Cup earlier this year.

“He [father Syed Fakhar Ali Shah] always thought baseball is a much more fun game than cricket,” he said.

“Cricket seems to be boring, and baseball was an Olympic sport back then. Now cricket is included, too, but back then it was baseball.

“For me, baseball is more fun than cricket and I don't like playing cricket. I think if people in Pakistan knew how to play baseball, they'll be leaving cricket.

"Because when you start playing baseball, then there's no going back.”

Originally from Lahore, Shah moved to the United States three months ago to dovetail studying health, exercise and sports science with playing college baseball.

Now he has flown almost all the way back home to play in a baseball tournament with some of his heroes in the sport.

“Five months ago I was watching YouTube videos about a day in the life of a D1 baseball player, and now I am one of them,” he said.

“It’s kind of amazing. It is a dream come true. There are Major League players standing in front of you, and you are sharing clubhouse. I'm learning a lot from them. It's a great experience.”

Shah says all of his learning in the sport has come from YouTube, given the dearth of facilities and expertise in Pakistan for the sport.

His colleague, Wahid, learnt the game from his older brother, who had been introduced to it at university.

Between them, the two siblings started a baseball academy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2014, and Wahid himself has made it to play alongside the stars of Baseball United.

“Now we have players playing there, and where we live baseball has become more famous than cricket,” Wahid said.

“Coming here, the stadium is so impressive. It’s an honour to be selected to play here with Baseball United. I’m eager to learn from these players.”

Updated: November 23, 2023, 4:52 AM