x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Little League baseball: Indonesian youngster to carry UAE flag in Philippines

Helmi will play for the country of his residence while brother played for Indonesia as the family represents sport's quirky global roots.

Helmi Yatim will line up for UAE three years after his brother played in the tournament for Indonesia.
Helmi Yatim will line up for UAE three years after his brother played in the tournament for Indonesia.

DUBAI // Because of the very status of the Burj Khalifa, it is undeniable that only in Dubai could a sports team train on a baseball diamond in the lee of the world's tallest building.

Perhaps it would be possible only in the cultural melting pot that is the UAE, too, to have a representative baseball team that includes an Indonesian first baseman as well as a Japanese-born catcher of Pakistani-Japanese parentage.

Six of the 13 players in the UAE tour party to the Philippines for the Little League World Series qualifying tournament were born outside of the United States.

Granted, most are the children of globe-trotting expatriate parents who originate from the sport's heartland, in America, but there is more to this squad than that.

None were born in the country they are set to represent next week - not that it dilutes the pride these players feel at having been selected to make the trip.

"It is awesome, to be in the top 13 in the UAE is amazing and makes me feel proud," the Jakarta-born Helmi Yatim said of being picked for the UAE Little League all-star team which flies to Manila this evening.

The 12-year-old Yatim has lived in Dubai for three years since his family relocated with his father Ady's job in the financial industry.

One of the first priorities for the Gems World Academy schoolboy, upon arrival in the UAE, was to find somewhere to satisfy his love for his sport of choice.

"It has always been my favourite sport and I didn't know if there was a baseball league in Dubai so I was kind of worried," he said.

"Then when my dad found out there was Little League here and I was excited to join."

Father Ady, who is one of two assistant coaches of the team heading to the Philippines, first learnt the sport while growing up in South Korea and later sharpened his knowledge when studying in the US.

He settled back in his homeland, in Jakarta, and introduced his sons to the sport when they were young. "Baseball is not one of the big sports in Indonesia but it is growing in the Jakarta area," Ady said.

"When he was three years old we were looking for something for the kids to do to build their self-esteem and help them socialise so we entered them into a team.

"They took to the baseball environment and they have been doing it ever since."

Youngest son Helmi's selection for this UAE team completes a quirky family double. His elder brother, Hakeem, previously represented Indonesia in the same Little League World Series qualifying tournament before they departed for Dubai in 2010.

"I'm really excited because my brother [Hakeem, who has also since represented a team from the UAE] played in this tournament three years ago when we were still living in Indonesia," Helmi said.

"He played for Indonesia then, and we are facing Indonesia this time. Some of my friends are there, they will be playing in the team, so I am excited and nervous all at the same time. They are really good players."

pradley@thenational.ae

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