Jamaicans are big on sports and are known across the globe for their prowess in a number of disciplines, including track and field, cricket, football and netball.
And, with the construction of the country’s first internationally standardised baseball diamond at the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports, in St. Catherine, underway, the government is hoping to add baseball to this list.
Although it is not a traditionally popular discipline in Jamaica, Sports Minister, Hon. Natalie Neita-Headley, is optimistic that within a few years, the sport could become a major income earner for local athletes.
“Jamaicans, all over the world, are known to be talented people. We seem to always find ways to excel in whatever endeavour we choose to undertake as a people and we have also demonstrated the uncanny ability to venture into new territories and to be successful too,” she says.
Mrs. Neita-Headley envisions that with the Jamaican spirit of determination and natural talent, combined with hard work and training, it is only a matter of time before the country will see a Jamaican born baseball player drafted to the major league in the United States.
Construction of the baseball diamond commenced on January 30, and should be completed by the end of the week on February 3. It will cost the government approximately $800,000, instead of the required US$12,000, as the main engineer, Damon VanBrocklin, who will construct the field through his firm, VanBrocklin Homes Inc, has opted to waive his fee. The local leg of the project will be done by local engineering firm, Grape Vine Enterprises Limited.
The construction of the baseball field is being spearheaded by the Institute of Sports (INSports), which is an agency of the Ministry of Sports, with funding from the Sports Development Foundation (SDF).
Mr. VanBrocklin tells JIS News that all the “behind the scenes” and ground work for international approval of the diamond has already been achieved. He advises that on completion the diamond is expected to have a length of 380 metres at its ditch – 60 metres more than the minimum requirement. He also assures that the field would be completed right on schedule. “I’m flying out on Friday, so it will be done by then, rain or shine,” he says.
The reason for waiving his fees, Mr. VanBrocklin admits, is because “it’s all about the people of Jamaica.”
“When I look at how Jamaicans are when they want to grasp a sport and how they are naturally acclimatised to sports, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Cricket is not very far off from baseball, and I hope Jamaicans will embrace the sport and I think it will help Jamaica go a long way and the country will be well-known in the sport of baseball in just a few years,” he says.
In the meantime, Minister Neita-Headley says the construction of the diamond is significant, “as not only are we undertaking to invest in the development of another new sport, but we are also expanding the possibilities that sport can offer to our country as an income earner.”
“Baseball is the most popular sport in the United States, with star player Alex Rodriquez of the New York Yankees earning an annual salaryof US$32,000,000, to be the richest player in the league,” she notes.
Mrs. Neita-Headley adds that according to a recent CBS News report, the average major league baseball player in 2011 earned US$3.3 million annually.
She is optimistic that although baseball might be seen as an unconventional sport for most Jamaicans, within a few years, it will be among one of the many sporting activities in which Jamaicans not only participate, but excel.
“With this construction we are planting the seed of sustainability and the country stands to benefit in the immediate and near future. From here onward, every batch of graduates from this college will be equipped with the knowledge of how to teach baseball in our schools and by extension in our communities,” she tells JIS News.
“This is the kind of 21st Century approach for sustainable development we want to see take place in every sport,” Mrs. Neita-Headley says.
The Minister expresses her hope that not too long from now, Jamaica will be reaping the success of the programme, by producing the first homegrown baseball player to be drafted to play major league baseball in the United States.
“In a few years, the college should be known for producing world class coaches in this region and Jamaica must be known as the ‘go-to’ country for exporting coaches,” she says. “We have produced many world stars in athletics, cricket, boxing and football, it is therefore not beyond us to produce baseball icons, like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, C.Y. Young and most recently, Andre Dawson, who in 2010 joined the list of great black players to be inducted in the American baseball Hall of Fame,” she says.
Director of Baseball and Sports Officer, Institute of Sports, Donovan Corcho, says the intended baseball programme at G.C. Foster represents the development of a sustained mechanism to drive the growth of the sport in Jamaica.
“When we first embarked on this project, one of the first things I wanted to find out was why baseball was dormant in Jamaica, because I knew that initiatives were made before to develop the sport. My investigations revealed that there were periodic attempts to move baseball, but based on the fact that it is not a game that is on the average Jamaican’s sport psyche, the initiatives just failed,” he notes.
Mr. Corcho admits that initially there was no sustained mechanism in place to drive the growth of the sport. He says that the first step was to look at the physical education curriculum to see if the sport could be introduced to the average Jamaican student as part of physical education activities in schools.
He informs that so far under the programme, some 34 local physical education teachers have been trained and received level one certification. “The plan is to transmit the fundamental skill sets of pitching, hitting and base running to the physical education instructors, who have direct connection with the kids in the primary school,” he says.
The Baseball Director informs that through this approach, students at the primary level will have direct contact with teachers trained to teach the sport and hopefully this will spark their interest to take the sport to a higher level.
He further advises that as part of plans to further develop and promote the sport among children, particularly at the primary school level, INSport will be hosting the pilot of a baseball tournament among 12 schools from St. Catherine and Kingston in April.
Mr. Corcho says INSports has no intention of stopping at just one baseball field, but is hoping to have at least three diamonds, one in each county across the island at the initial stage.
“This will ensure that when we try to move the activities through the schools across the island, like clinics and seminars, these fields will afford us the chance to apply the physical element of the training and development,” he says.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter