When Kash Shaikh first had the idea of bringing professional baseball to the Middle East, he might have been inspired by a line from Field of Dreams.
“If you build it, he will come,” Kevin Costner’s character is told in the movie, when he visualises building a baseball diamond on his farm at which his heroes could play. The line has become more popularly misquoted as “they will come.”
Fortunately for Shaikh, the stadium was already built when he first floated the idea of Baseball United two years ago.
Now, two years later, the cricket field at Dubai International Stadium has been transformed into a baseball diamond, and the gates will be opened to paying spectators for the first time.
Two sides will play in the first Baseball United All-Star Showcase series on Friday and Saturday nights.
A sizeable part of the ambition of Shaik, who is the chairman, chief executive and majority owner of Baseball United, has already been realised.
An impressive assembly of Major League Baseball personnel have travelled from the United States with him to be involved, including players, coaches, commentators and back-room staff.
Now all the project needs are eyeballs for its matches, and the organisers are confident on that count, too. The matches are set to be broadcast in 127 countries, while they are anticipating around 5,000 spectators in the stands.
“For India versus Pakistan it is full; for local leagues, it is not,” Shaikh said about the turnout for cricket at the stadium in the past.
“People told us if you can get a couple of thousand people in there, we will be surprised. We believe we are going to pass that.
“On opening night it looks like we are going to have at least 4-5,000 people, which is pretty special.”
The field of play will look very different to what cricket fans have grown used to. Home plate has been placed at the northern end of the stadium, in front of grand lounge.
Murray Cook, the MLB’s official field and stadium consultant, has overseen the development of a professional standard field.
They have imported clay from the United States, silt from Pakistan and sand from the Liwa Desert.
The grass has had to be grown out from its normal length of 12mm for cricket. The optimal length of outfield grass in baseball is regarded as 22mm. The turf will likely be around 18mm when it is game time on Thursday.
The ground staff have also erected custom made fencing from scratch to protect the fans. “It is not like cricket,” Shaikh said. “I hope you tell people to stay alert. Baseballs come in fast into the crowd.”
Each of the two all-star sides for the exhibition series include four “prospect” players from closer to home.
The Ugandan representative, Dennis Kasumba, caught the eye of the organisers via social media, where he shared videos of his resourceful training methods. These include catching eggs, and throwing bricks in the rain.
“Their biggest dreams weren’t even as big as what they got to experience,” Shaikh said of the rookie players.
“Like when someone like [former New York Yankees second baseman] Robinson Cano is taking them under his wing, and talking to them and teaching them the game.”