Baseball is nowhere near cricket and football in terms of popularity in our country. It is still considered a foreign game and people in our country hardly know about it, even after 14 years of existing in the national sports circuit.
However, the game has gained some sort of popularity among young people and a huge number of young players are beginning to take this game seriously in recent years.
Surprisingly, those who love cricket are more interested in this game and more female players are getting involved these days.
Talha Yubayer, coach of Bangladesh Baseball-Softball team, thinks the similarity between cricket and baseball may be one of the major reasons for its growing popularity. He himself started as a boxer and used to train in Baseball as a recreational game as it would increase his fist power, but gradually fell in love with the game.
"Many cricketers find Baseball helpful as it helps you increase your wrist power. Even some local cricketers play Baseball during their off-season to work on their hitting ability," said Yubayer.
Yubayer believes Baseball, at the same time, makes cricket easier and vice-versa. Almost everybody who follows cricket will understand Baseball. And as Baseball is faster than cricket, it helps the players be agile. Baseball also requires a fast and active fielding side with proper throwing and catching. That is why, Yubayer understands, more cricketers - especially female cricketers - are playing baseball these days.
Nazma Akhter - originally a Rugby player for Bangladesh Ansar who recently made her debut in the 2nd National Women's Softball Championship 2020 - has already fallen so much in love with the sport that she wants to represent the country at the highest level.
A national league is supposed to be held in Narayangonj in February where cricketers like Anisul Islam Emon, who recently played in the Bangabandhu T20 Cup, is likely to participate. Talha Yubayer also said that some national female cricketers often participate in women's national leagues.
So, when did it begin in Bangladesh? The story goes way back in the mid-2000s. Baseball came here in Bangladesh through Aminul Islam Liton, the current Secretary-General of Bangladesh Baseball-Softball Association (BBSA), back in 2006. The Association was formed on 26 November 2006 but somehow it had to pause its activity for a few years until 2009, when it started flourishing through organising national tournaments and others.
Besides Talha Yubayer, there are two more coaches for the national Baseball-Softball team. Hiroki Watanabe from Japan is the head coach and Sean Moore from the US works alongside Talha Yubayer as the national Baseball team coach.
BBSA hosts men's and women's inter-school, college, club cup, Federation cup apart from the national competitions at the Dhaka Paltan Maidan ground. Men's and women's national tournaments take place simultaneously every year while Softball - a game similar to baseball played with a larger ball and under-arm pitching, especially for women - takes place two or three times a year.
The ongoing pandemic, however, brought a halt to the proceedings. Everything came to a standstill and there were no tournaments until late August. Since then, three tournaments have been organised, the last one being the 2nd Women's Softball Championship held in December.
Within the short period of time following its introduction, Bangladesh has already achieved success in the international arena. Participating in the Presidential Cup in Guwahati, India in 2018, Bangladesh national men's team secured third place. This was Bangladesh's first-ever international appearance in Baseball.
Nazmul Khan, who made his debut for Bangladesh national baseball team in 2017, played in that tournament. "April of 2018 was my favourite. We had a great run in the tournament and exceeded our own expectations," said Nazmul.
The following year, in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh secured 5th position in the West Asia Cup.
While there is a fixed and stable men's national team, Bangladesh do not have a women's national team yet.
"We haven't participated in any women's international tournament yet. When we get such an opportunity, we will build a team for that," said a hopeful Talha Yubayer.
"We have high hopes for our women's team. We haven't formed a team yet, but there are some good potential players in the pipeline. Even the Federation of Asia sees us as an upcoming powerhouse in women's baseball," Yubayer seemed really confident and excited.
Regular inter-school and college tournaments for women are organised by BBSA where colleges like Holy Cross, Viqarunnisa Noon College and Eden College dominate. This, according to Talha, is the pipeline that will produce world-class players.
Holy Cross College hosts their own tournament dividing players in two groups - Trojans and Spartans.
Amidst all these successes and potential for future, Baseball suffers in some primary areas in Bangladesh. Financial issues are the first and foremost. Talha complained mostly about the lack of sponsors and media coverage.
"We need more sponsors. We struggle every time we look for a sponsor while hosting any tournament. It's usually Walton, and no one else. Media coverage is somewhat responsible for this. Despite baseball being a global game, we hardly get any coverage here in Bangladesh. If there were more media coverage on this potential sport, more sponsors would be coming forward, I believe."
There is no fixed training ground for this sport. Players don't get to train in the actual baseball field, which holds them back from reaching international level. Paltan Maidan is usually selected as the tournament ground, but other sports academies also train at the same venue. As a result, players remain at the risk of getting injured.
"We need a fixed ground for training and hosting tournaments. Teams coming from outside of Dhaka suffer a lot when they come to play any tournament," Yubayer lamented.
Despite the financial problem, BBSA provides equipment to the players. The players sometimes buy their own gears but most of them are provided by the association.
How much do the gears cost? Nazmul Khan said the cost is within anyone's budget. A player basically needs a bat, gloves and a helmet to play the game. According to Nazmul, a bat costs around Tk2,000 while a basic helmet should cost around Tk300. Gloves being the most expensive item costs from Tk2,000 to 10,000, depending on quality.
For any country or any club, an official academy is a must from where the new-gen will rise and be nurtured. BBSA is planning to form an official academy soon and the name has already been finalised. Sand Angel Baseball Academy will be BBSA's official academy with an aim to produce players who will one day get to play for clubs in the USA, Canada or Cuba.
Sand Angel Academy has already started taking steps for admission and training. An official announcement is due soon.
Talha Yubayer wants Bangladesh to participate in the age-level world cups. For that, the game has to be spread all over the country. That, for now, is Talha's future plan.
"Baseball is still an amateur game in Bangladesh. We need to take this to the professional level soon. We're trying to get baseball included in Bangladesh Games. That will be a huge boost and milestone for the game," added Talha.
Baseball has surely come a long way within a very short time in Bangladesh. Baseball achieved almost the same, if not greater, international success in the first 12-14 years, as cricket or football.
"Baseball is in a far better place than cricket was in its first 12 years," said a proud Secretary-General, Aminul Islam Liton.
Is it really? Only time will tell.
The future surely looks bright for baseball, but there are some hurdles to cross. Talha and his players are hopeful, they dream big. And if they continue their hard work with proper dedication and passion, complemented with proper financial and media support, they will definitely hit the 'home run' that they have been searching for some time now.