When Ollie Duthie first introduced himself to his new baseball teammates after arriving at university in Canada, he knew he might pique some curiosity.
Students who were born and raised in the UAE to do not exactly abound on the baseball diamonds of North American.
In fact, according to the records of the Dubai Little League – the junior competition with a membership of around 400 kids – he is the first such player to make it to college-level baseball.
The former Dubai College schoolboy earned a scholarship to attend University of British Columbia in Vancouver at the start of this academic year, based on his ability as a pitcher.
Ahead of joining up with his new colleagues, he guessed he might have some questions to answer. Maybe he would have to point out his hometown on a world map, 12,000kms away from his new one.
As it turned out, his new mates knew plenty about Dubai already. Like the fact that absolutely everyone there drives high-velocity sports cars.
“There was a lot of shock at first when I said I was from Dubai,” said Duthie, speaking on Zoom from his dormitory room in Vancouver on Canada’s west coast.
“I think the furthest anyone else has come from is probably Toronto, which is a three-hour plane ride. For me, it is a 16-hour plane ride.
“A lot of the guys are curious. Dubai is well known. But most people don’t know what Dubai is actually like, just what the media portrays it to be.
“They ask me questions like, ‘Do you drive a Lamborghini?’ It is pretty funny to see the perception of it.”
If he is a source of intrigue for them, then the feeling is mutual. Duthie says he has been learning fast about his new surroundings.
“The team did a really good job of integrating me,” he said. “They organised a spikeball tournament, where we could sit around, have some pizza, and chat.
“When the coach said we were going to play spikeball, I had heard of the game but never played it.
“He asked if anyone had never played it. I begrudgingly put my hand up. Everyone laughed and he said, ‘Of course the Dubai kid has never played it.’
“There are a few other things I’m not used to about the culture here. I’m sometimes the brunt of a lot of jokes, just because I’m new. It is fun. I enjoy it.”
Remarkably, Duthie is one of three players – all left-handed pitchers – to make it from the baseball fields next to Dubai Pond Park to play baseball at college this year.
He has kept in touch with Jack Chapleski and Mattia Sparacino, who were peers in a year group of 15 players in the DLL, and traded notes about being freshman players in alien climes.
“At first it was big shock to the system because some guys had played probably three times the amount of games that I have,” Duthie said.
“I was doing drills that were common for them but new to me. There was a little learning bump, but as I am playing more, getting more playing time, I feel like I am adjusting well. I’m grateful to be here. It’s been an insane journey.
“Technically I have improved a lot. I have gained some velocity and some strength, and I feel I have progressed as a pitcher.
“And in terms of myself, I have got to understand there are a lot of games, so I can’t get too down on myself if things don’t go my way. They eventually will so I just have to keep going.”
Duthie has pitched in 10 innings so far, in a side who have played 40 matches this season, including trips as far afield as Arizona and California.
His university are the only Canadian team to feature in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics competition, which otherwise solely involves sides from the United States.
Last weekend involved a nine-hour bus trip to Oregon. They played four games in two days, then drove back, arriving at 4am ahead of classes on Monday.
While matches for Duthie used to have the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa, now they have packed stands. When they played – and beat – the professionals of the Toronto Blue Jays minor league side, around 4,000 spectators came to watch.
All of which might be daunting for a newcomer from out of town. Duthie acknowledges he was apprehensive ahead of his first competitive action.
“I was the third player out of the bullpen [the area where pitchers warm up before entering the game],” he said.
“It was pretty early and I was nervous and excited. There were a lot of emotions, knowing that I was going to be continuing the Dubai dream of playing college baseball.
“Once I got on the mound I was nervous. But once you pick up the ball you realise it is the same old game you’ve been playing for years.”
He was not the only one feeling tense.
“Watching online from here at 3am, I was terrified,” said his father, Roger, who is president of the DLL.
“I got up at 2am and 3am for the first three weeks he was there and watched every game. It was hard when it didn’t go too well, but it was wonderful and full of elation when it did go well.
“It is all part of the learning curve. It is hard not to be there helping him out, but he is doing it himself.”
Now, Duthie Jr is loving the experience – as well as the opportunity to represent Dubai.
“When we walk in, we have our own music and a big scoreboard with a photo that shows where we are from,” he said.
“Because we are freshmen, the team pick our walkout music for us. I was given a British rap, which I think stands out a bit. A lot of people in the stands were questioning that.
“Some of my friends came to watch and they said the Dubai stood out a lot, and they heard people talking about it. It is pretty cool, but you have to try to ignore it when you are out there.
“The first time I did it, I had goosebumps. You have to run down from the bullpen to the mound, and it takes about 30 to 45 seconds.
“There were so many thoughts going through my head. But once you pick up that ball, you lock in.”