Batting for baseball in Dubai: How the sport arrived in the city

...and found its feet in the new playing fields

by

A Staff Reporter

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Published: Fri 20 Oct 2023, 5:40 PM

It all started in early 1996, when Andy and Sally Ritter, a GM couple relatively new to Dubai, wanted their sons to be able to play baseball. It was a wish that could not be easily translated to reality because their school, the American School of Dubai (ASD), did not have a baseball programme nor did Dubai have a Little League of its own. Instead of getting disheartened with the lack of amenities, the Ritters began to work towards starting a Dubai Little League programme to bring the sport to their new city of domicile. They sought the support of GM to generate interest in their plan, and through ASD, they gathered a group of 10-12-year-old kids to form a baseball team.

Marking their dynamic entry into the arena, the team challenged the Abu Dhabi Little League All-Stars to a two-game tournament. The Abu Dhabi Little League accepted the challenge to play against this new group of kids from Dubai. The first of these games was played in Abu Dhabi and the second game at ASD. In classic storybook fashion, the Dubai team handily won the first game in Abu Dhabi and dominated the second game in Dubai. By the Fall of 1996, the Ritters had organised a small group of parents to start a Little League programme in Dubai and initiated them to serve as its Board of Directors. They then applied to Little League International for a Little League Charter, which was granted in 1997. The new Dubai Little League obtained permission from ASD to use its ground for practice and reached an agreement with the Dubai Softball League to play on their dirt fields at the then Metropolitan Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road.


During the first playing season, Dubai had 12 teams in three divisions. About 120 schoolboys and schoolgirls from 10 countries, including the UAE, participated in the competition. Each team was sponsored by a different company, which provided the necessary funds for League expenses and widened the visibility of the League in the community. From there, the Dubai Little League kept growing, but a constant worry was the Dubai Municipality’s plans to claim the land of the Dubai Softball League for community and infrastructure works, which would leave the Dubai Little League without a place to play baseball.

The issue required the intervention of government authorities at the highest level. The president of the Council of the Dubai Little League programme Roger Duthie suggested that if the Dubai Government could provide suitable land, the League would generate the funds required to build baseball fields there. The government agreed to the proposal and from then, there has been no looking back for the Dubai Little League.


By the time the fields were completed in the 2003-04 season, the League had over 200 players belonging to more than 20 nationalities. Over the next few years, the fields were expanded and improved, especially with lights for night games. A Challengers League was later added and the numbers grew to nearly 400 players covering 40 nationalities. In 2005, the DLL held its first annual international tournament hosting teams from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Teams in all age categories participated in the three-day tournament.

The Dubai Little League Invitational Tournament has hosted over 2,000 players from places as far away as Australia, Singapore and South Africa. In 2010, the DLL introduced its Challengers Division, an initiative to include Special Needs children in the league. Over 200 children have participated in the Challenger Division, many of whom have limited opportunities to play sports regularly. The effort the DLL players and other volunteers have taken to teach them baseball has resulted in bringing marked improvements in their coordination skills and well-being, and it has established a lasting connection between their families.

Despite the Covid-19 years, the League Board kept the venue afloat and raise funds for the sustenance of the league. They even managed to bring the Los Angeles Dodgers to Dubai every year to host clinics, sign autographs and even play cricket. As of 2023, the roster boasts over 500 baseball and softball players, with a diverse composition that spans 27 different nationalities. Five adult baseball teams play in an all-wood bat league and another 100 players in the Mixed Emirates Slow Pitch League (ESL).

The League with its constant reinforcements has made sure that baseball is well and thriving in Dubai. “Baseball and softball in Dubai and the UAE are alive and kicking, and the interest from kids and parents to continue this organised and structured programme is what our community is all about. We are a volunteer-based organisation and we are looking forward to our biggest and best season coming up in 2023–2024,” DLL president Roger Duthie said.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com



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