It was bat against ball, but not as we knew it. Professional baseball made its debut in the region on Friday night at a cricket stadium in Dubai Sports City that had been specially reappointed for two nights only.
A decent-sized crowd came to watch the opening night of Baseball United’s All-Star Showcase. It was evenly split between those who couldn’t believe what they were seeing and those who couldn’t really understand what they were seeing.
There were the baseball diehards who were reveling in having their favourite pastime played out in front of them for the first time in the Middle East.
They were appreciating Bartolo Colon, the 50-year-old starting pitcher and four-time MLB all-star, dusting off some of his old hits.
They also might have been wondering if the sight of eight-time all-star Robinson Cano making a comeback on a playing field in the desert was just a mirage.
And then there were those who were trying to figure out why the umpires weren’t signaling four when the ball hit the fence. And trying to work out what precisely the pitcher was aiming for.
And also how they had such a good view of the action. It has been said by baseball fans that there are no good seats at cricket, essentially because all the action happens a good 70 metres away from the front row.
On Friday night, the majority of spectators were sat behind – or at least close enough - to home plate. They could feel the whizz of a fastball and the swish of the bat far more intimately than in cricket.
Some were closer still to the action. A few metres outside the foul lines on either side of the field were “cabanas” from where spectators could have a meal while watching the game.
Kash Shaikh, the founder of Baseball United, had promised to bring “a little bit of Americana to Dubai”. But the cabanas felt more of a nod to Dubai and its high-end hospitality sector. They were the poshest of posh seats.
The Emirates Cricket Board have agreed a 15-year deal with Baseball United. That should provide plenty of scope for borrowing ways to market their own sport.
Because of the contrast between those who knew what was going on and those trying to make sense of it all, the game meant different things to different people.
Halfway through the first inning, Courtney Hawkins made what was heralded on the tannoy as the “historic first base hit”. The Dubai Police band, situated in the stand at what would be right field for a baseball player - or mid-off for a cricketer - responded with a rendition of 'The Final Countdown'.
Steven Moya completed the first run. Shortly after that, the band played Michael Jackson’s 'Thriller'. For the uninitiated who were trying to get to grips with the scoring system, it was unclear whether or not they were being ironic.
For many in that group, the game really started in the fifth inning, when the “prospect players” were given their chance to impact proceedings.
Especially given that it immediately pitted India against Pakistan. Akshay More, one of three Indians involved, took to the mound to pitch. Facing him was a player by the lone name of Wahid, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Wahid learnt baseball from his older brother, who was introduced to it at university in Pakistan. He has clearly learnt it well, given how he managed to navigate the bases to score his side’s first run.
He walked to first base after four pitches outside of the strike zone by More. Then he picked up two more bases after More erred with his throw to first base when he thought Wahid was stealing ground. The overthrow ended up by a cabana instead.
Wahid went on to complete his side’s first run. It started a comeback which ended up with them winning the match, late in the evening in Dubai.