x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai Falcons have global feel

A youth baseball team from Dubai has a chance this week to qualify for the Little League World Series.

Thirteen of Dubai´s top 12 and 13-year-old baseball players are in Kutno, Poland, to compete for the right to represent Africa and the Middle East at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bottom row, from left: Shane Heller, Braden Garrison, Alex West, Luis Olivera, Mike Kapner, Christian Hickey, Benji van Rooyen. Top row, from left: Pete Giles, Jacob Whaley, Faiz Moosa, Isaiah Jones, Ray Braun, James Braden, Curran Hickey, Kelly Jones, Steve Braun.
Thirteen of Dubai´s top 12 and 13-year-old baseball players are in Kutno, Poland, to compete for the right to represent Africa and the Middle East at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bottom row, from left: Shane Heller, Braden Garrison, Alex West, Luis Olivera, Mike Kapner, Christian Hickey, Benji van Rooyen. Top row, from left: Pete Giles, Jacob Whaley, Faiz Moosa, Isaiah Jones, Ray Braun, James Braden, Curran Hickey, Kelly Jones, Steve Braun.

A youth baseball team from Dubai has a chance this week to qualify for the Little League World Series. Whether they make it or not, the Dubai Falcons already have an global flavour. The team is made up of boys from five different countries, aged 12 and 13, who have played and practised for months to prepare for the games that will decide who travels to the United States next month.

This week, they are in Kutno, Poland, to compete against four other teams from the region for the right to represent the Middle East and Africa at the World Series. "It was a real impressive preparation that the boys put in to get prepared for the tournament," said Greg Sproule, the president of Dubai Little League. "They had one day off in the two weeks leading up to the tournament and they practised four times a week previous to that, amid all this heat."

The boys, who come from the US, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and India, are ready to stop practising and start playing. "I just want to get there and play," pitcher Christian Hickey, 12, said in a statement released by the team. "All the practice and team events have been fun, but it's time to pull it all together for real." In Poland, the boys will compete against teams from South Africa, Uganda, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for four days in a round-robin format. The winners will travel to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in August for the Little League World Series, which will be broadcast globally.

This is fifth time a team from the UAE has made it to the qualifying tournament in Poland. They have missed the trip to the finals each time, and have been edged out narrowly by Saudi Arabia in the past two years. The local Little League season, which features 36 teams and 450 boys from 30 countries, ended in April. The team that is headed to Poland, which was picked from two all-star teams, beat Saudi Arabia in a regional tournament in April, giving the boys confidence of overcoming their rivals in the next round of competition. "Saudi Arabia always have been a good team," Sproule said. "We beat them during the regional tournament, but you are never sure of whether they bring their full team in for that event, versus the team they send to Poland." The Dubai team is coached by Pete Giles, an Australian. "The boys are an impressive group," Giles said in a statement from the team. "They have sacrificed their summers in order to train to be the best they can possibly be. "We go to Poland as a united team ready to compete against the other teams and represent the UAE as best we can." Sproule said Giles, who played professionally in Australia, communicates well with the boys. "He is an exceptional coach and an exceptional communicator," Sproule said. "So what he brings is a lot of experience and a lot of great communication skills to the kids, and that's been the difference this year. "And, of course, the level of commitment the boys have had to practise. They really think they have a decent chance and they have every right to think they have a great chance. It's a big stage but they are ready to go." The parents have also shown a keen enthusiasm for the sport and several of them are in Poland to support the team. "At least one parent for each player has accompanied the team," said Kelly Jones, the team's assistant coach, who is from Canada. "Even a few grandparents are here. In all, approximately 22 family members are attending to support the players. "We've got 13 boys, 22 parents and three coaches. So it is a fairly big delegation." There are no Emiratis on the tournament team, but Sproule is confident this will change over the coming years with a number of nationals taking to the sport. "One thing that makes us most proud is that we've been also able to reach out and have a number of Emirati kids, both boys and girls - boys in the baseball and girls in the softball league," he said. "That's ultimately one of the most rewarding things that we can do. "As we get boys that have played at younger ages in the league, we are pretty confident that we will have them [in the national team]. "Frankly, we'd love to have a whole team of Emirati boys, but because the sport is new here to Emiratis it may take a couple of more years, but we are certainly pleased with the progress we have made so far." arizvi@thenational.ae