Pair of Washington Nationals minor leaguers helping teach baseball in Dubai

Danny Rosenbaum and Pat Lehman, players in the Washington Nationals organisation, have been in Dubai the past couple months conducting clinics and camps.
The Washington Nationals won the National League East division in 2014. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
The Washington Nationals won the National League East division in 2014. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

In a country where cricket is far and away the more dominant bat-and-ball sport, a pair of baseball professionals have been in Dubai the past couple months contributing to an effort to grow that game in the UAE and Middle East/North Africa region at large.

Danny Rosenbaum and Pat Lehman, players in the Washington Nationals organisation, have been running clinics and teaching skills with Dubai Little League alongside Team Rhino Sports, a training outfit for baseball and softball players based out of Dubai founded by an American, Carlos Algarin, living in the UAE.

It’s the second time here for Rosenbaum, a minor leaguer who has played the last two seasons at the Triple-A level, one tier below Major League Baseball, with Washington’s affiliate at the level, the Syracuse Chiefs.

“Last year I got to come out here with one of my buddies – they invited me out, they needed to find a player, and so I came out here for a week and really loved it,” says Rosenbaum, 27.

“I was talking with Carlos and his family and the company, and we’ve been talking all summer during the season about bringing me back here for a couple months and he asked if I had anyone else that would be interested, so I asked Pat – one of my really close friends, if he’d be interested and he said ‘Heck yeah’.”

Baseball has a long history in Latin America and East Asia, not so much West Asia and the broader Mena region. That, says Rosenbaum, is part of the appeal in coming here and getting in on a project where he can help lay the foundation.

“Spreading awareness and knowledge of the game to as many people as possible, that’s our goal,” says Rosenbaum.

Alvarin says Team Rhino runs clinics and camps developing not only diamond sports – baseball and softball – skills here in the UAE, but through the Middle East and North Africa, teaching the game and building fitness with roughly 36,000 children around the region and thousands more adults. The demographic breakdown reveals a a fairly surprising diversity – only about 55 per cent of players involved with Team Rhino are North Americans. Another 20-25 per cent are East Asian, roughly 10 per cent Australasian, 6 per cent Latin American and, believe it or not, about 4 per cent of players here locally are Emiratis taking up baseball or softball.

They’ve taught other students from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia – “The sport is definitely growing in this part of the world and we’re excited about the growth of the sport in the Middle East” in particular, says Alvarin.

Having a couple pros around the past couple months, says Alvarin, an ex-US Marine, has only helped fuel that excitement.

“These guys are very instrumental in helping us build this organisation.

“The kids have loved working with these professionals, there’s such a hidden population that loves playing these sports here – whether it’s young girls hoping to play fastpitch softball at the university level or boys that hope to play at university levels. Now with basebal land softball coming back to the Olympics we see the role Team Rhino can take helping those kids.

“It’s something we hope to fulfil and help them achieve as we develop and grow.”

Comparing working with baseball and softball here in the Emirates with running similar camps and clinics back in the US, Rosenabum adds, “The kids that we work with – you know back at home we’ve been to Triple-A, but we’re not like a huge deal. But here with these kids it’s just like, ‘Wow, these are professional baseball players’.

“There’s none of us out here, we’re the only two. So it’s almost like we’re celebrities, and it’s a great feeling for us to see the kids, the looks on their faces, with all the stuff we’ve been able to teach them and show them.

“Out here the market hasn’t even been tapped, there’s so much opportunity to just grow the diamond sports in general, all over the globe, besides North America and South America, and we’ve been really excited that the opportunity has been given to us.”

Before heading back to the US, Rosenbaum, Lehman and two other former pros – Jason Christian, a fifth-round pick of the Oakland A’s in 2008 who made it to Double-A, and another former player – will run a camp this weekend at the American School of Dubai.

Farther down the road, in an ideal world this time next year they’d be permanent fixtures with the Nationals in the major leagues. If that’s not in the cards though, Rosenbaum says he could see a future with instructing, and likely even be back in Dubai.

“The place is so welcoming, it’s been an awesome experience and I would never take it back.”

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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