KAMPALA, UGANDA - George Wilson Mukhobe has worked as a baseball coach in Uganda for the last decade, and for the last three years as a Major League Baseball scout in Africa.
He says there is impressive talent in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
But Mukhobe says few sports shops sell baseball equipment and there is a lack of facilities and support.
“Baseball faces a big challenge. Because, since people have little knowledge about baseball and is damn expensive game, they say, maybe next time," he told VOA. "They run for quick sports like soccer, athletics and volleyball, you know, basketball. But with baseball, it’s really tough, even the coaches themselves need to have enough knowledge, to convince the kid that yes, you know the game, so that he can teach them.”
Uganda’s baseball players are heavily dependent on donations from the U.S. and Japan, where Americans introduced the sport.
Uganda’s National Council of Sports says baseball is not among their priorities.
“One of the things that lack currently, that you could think that they could do much better, baseball and as government, is to give the team the chance to compete," said Ismael Kigongo Dhakaba, the council’s spokesperson. "Today, they only compete largely against Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. So, maybe if they were many more countries competing, they would raise a kind of awareness.”
Despite the limitations, baseball has come a long way in Uganda.
In 2012, Uganda became the first African country to play in the Little League Baseball World Series in Pennsylvania.
America’s favorite pastime is attracting Ugandan converts such as 21-year-old Arago David, who plays for Uganda’s national team and is an assistant coach.
“First day I came, they told, we have the gloves, this a bat, baseball. I said, I’ll try it and see. When I trained for a month, they called me and said, you know what? We are taking you to the national team, under 12. I said okay," he told VOA.
In May, Uganda’s national team came in second, after the host, at the Olympics pre-qualifier in South Africa.
The success of Ugandan baseball is inspiring more players.
15-year-old Wenene Specioza became a fan after watching boys play and decided she too could play baseball.
“I know what I want. The coach loves me. And I got interest in my first base, because I play first base. It’s so interesting if you get to know it, really," Wenene said.
While Ugandan baseball looks for more support, its young players will depend on coaches like Mukhobe to take them out to the ball game.