Coaches and officials from the Dubai Little League described scholarship awards to three youngsters to play baseball at colleges in North America as "incredible".
Ollie Duthie and Jack Chapleski, who started out in the sport as young children playing T-ball in Dubai, will study in Vancouver and Massachusetts respectively.
Mattia Sparacino, who has lived in Dubai for eight years, will be heading to college in Los Angeles at the end of the UAE’s academic year.
To put the trio's achievement into context, fewer than 10 per cent of high school players in the US go on to play college baseball.
Yet three players will be graduating from a league based next to Barsha Pond Park - a league whose entire junior membership is around 400 and with a pool of about 15 in their age group.
Coincidentally, all three players are left-handed pitchers, which is also extremely rare, according to Roger Duthie, the league’s president.
"Because they are international students, finding them was very difficult for these schools," Duthie said.
“These kids were recruited based on videos, recommendations from coaches, and interviews.
“Normally, you would have to watch the kid in person, but because of Covid and other things, they were taken on their videos, which is incredible.
“It is a hard thing to do to play college sports at the next level. To have three kids, two of whom grew up in Dubai, and the other who has been here for eight years, is an incredible thing to happen.
“Also, all three are left-handed pitchers. Having one is pretty unique, but to have three who are graduating and playing in America on scholarships in unheard of.”
Ollie, Duthie’s son, will be attending Canada’s leading baseball university, in British Columbia, where he plans to dovetail playing with studying geography.
The Dubai College schoolboy was born in the city, and started out in T-ball aged three. After pursuing other sports, he chose to focus on baseball in recent years.
“I remember having a bat and ball when I was younger, and throwing it around wherever I could,” Ollie said.
“I always loved the game, and continued trying to get as good as I can. I think I’ve reached the best I could possibly be in my situation, and am grateful for everything DLL has allowed me to do.”
Ollie has fostered a love for the Toronto Bluejays, often waking up “at 4am if it is school day, or stay up till 3am if it is an important game and not sleep that day”.
He regards their former pitcher Marcus Stroman as a role model, given his journey to the pro game despite his diminutive stature.
“His motto is, ‘Height doesn’t measure heart,” Ollie said. “I was always much shorter than everyone else.
“I’ve grown a little now, but I have always been one of the shorter players, and I’ve always wanted to prove myself on the baseball field with my attitude and my effort, so he is the player I look up to.”
Mattia will be studying micro-economics and world affairs at Occidental College in California alongside his baseball.
“Every year I have been here at DLL, it has been getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
“We have had more access and more facilities. We have had a lot of new additions that have helped us greatly, especially with our coaches.
“Two years ago was when I turned around and I felt I could really make something of this if I tried.”
Jack, who was born in Japan before his family moved to Dubai when he was two, said he did not want his baseball career to end when he left school.
“I had seen the stats early on [about how few players advance from high school to college baseball], but I never really thought I couldn’t do it,” said Jack, who will attend Tufts University.
Daniel Edwards, the trio’s pitching coach, said the college scholarships mark a remarkable achievement for the DLL.
"This league does an unbelievable job with the resources they have," said Edwards, who was drafted to MLB teams Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies before moving into a career in the oil and gas industry.
“The facility is great, and there is a lot of enthusiasm. But the United States, Canada and Latin America have such a huge population that they really don’t look internationally.
“For three kids to come out of a senior class in the middle of the desert is pretty incredible.
“We are hoping it can become more of the norm. The grades matter, as does the fact they are not so set on playing pro ball, but are happy to be playing college ball.
“It is really exciting. It is difficult enough to do it from America, let alone from out here.”