ABU DHABI // Of the many unexpected sporting sights Abu Dhabi regularly produces, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak throwing the opening pitch of the final day of a softball league at Zayed Sports City will take some beating.
"Watch out," he quipped, before throwing it overhand, as opposed to the softball code in which pitches are tossed under-hand. It was a mean pitch nonetheless.That marked the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi Softball league, the first league of its kind to be held in the capital in over 10 years.
Dubai, by contrast, has had a league running since the early 1970s and it is thought by some to be one of the oldest sporting organisations in the UAE.
For something that was not around for so long, it did not take long to get one going. Florencia Caro, the Argentine brainchild behind it and chief organiser, had been wanting to play softball since she came to Abu Dhabi over three years ago.
She was travelling to Dubai twice a week to play before deciding in January to get something going here.
She began by starting up recreational, pick-up softball nights, advertising games on Facebook.
"People would come between 7pm and 9pm and play and that happened for six weeks," she said.
"But quickly it came to a point when there were 50-60 people coming every week and I thought it was time to start a league."
On March 26, just over a month ago, a six-week league was up and running.
"We had an overwhelming amount of interest right away," she said.
"Initially I thought we would have four teams [10 to a team but 13 in a squad]. So I had six teams sign up immediately plus we had enough for two additional teams."
The teams were selected by Caro, ensuring that each team had a fair balance of experience and inexperience and male and female players.
The result has been, she said, a surprisingly "competitive league" in which, until last week, four teams were in the running for the championship.
The original league, which ended in 2003, had become fairly prominent and according to some players, this was an idea that just needed organising.
"We tried to organise a league, or a regular pick-up game but it was hard to get enough people organised," said Sami Khobeiri, who plays for the Falcons side that was playing for the championship last night.
"We just didn't have a central organiser because everybody was busy with work and life. It's been fantastic, a wonderful thing to do on a Tuesday night."
There is more of it to come. The league takes a break, but not for as long as a decade this time: the second season begins May 14.