Kenya baseball and softball federations team up to develop Baseball5 National Teams

Kenya baseball and softball federations team up to develop Baseball5 National Teams
27/04/2022
The cooperation sees Softball Kenya overseeing the adult Baseball5 National Team, while the Baseball Kenya is responsible for the Youth National Teams. The two baseball and softball leaders explained the reasoning behind this strategy.

April's episode of WBSC's 2022 Federation Focus series explores the collaboration between baseball and softball, which are governed in some countries under one governing body and in others as separate bodies. The Baseball Federation of Kenya and the Kenya Softball Federation are working together to build the country's National Baseball5 Teams.

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"When the WBSC introduced Baseball5, we thought there could be a problem selecting National Teams since the two federations operate separately," Francis Njeru Karugu, the Kenya Softball Federation president, told the WBSC. Together with the Baseball Federation, we agreed to form a Commission."

"I couldn't see a clear directive on handling Baseball5 in countries like Kenya, where the baseball and softball federations are separated," added Titus Mutwiri, the Baseball Federation of Kenya president. "We sat down with the softball federation and agreed on the need [to establish a joint] commission."

The cooperation sees Softball Kenya overseeing the adult Baseball5 National Team, while the Baseball Kenya is responsible for the Youth National Teams. The two baseball and softball leaders explained the reasoning behind this strategy.

"Softball has more visibility at the university level," said Mutwiri.

"Baseball is stronger at the youth level and in communities," confirmed Njeru.

Both national teams will include baseball and softball players.

Both federations believe Baseball5 represents a tremendous development opportunity to grow the sport in the country.

"The beauty of Baseball5 is that it's not expensive and doesn't require a lot of space or equipment," said Mutwiri.

The Baseball Kenya president is committed to making the five-on-five version of baseball/softball an extra-curricular activity in schools.

"The Ministry of Sports encourages the development of Baseball5, but for now, I couldn't get a full commitment. If Baseball5 got into school programmes, the growth would be immense."

US Marines introduced baseball to Kenya in the 1970s, but it wasn't until 20 years later that the Kenyans started to play. Mutwiri got in touch with the game as a player at Meru High School in the late 1990s, but didn't become involved until 2013. He became the federation's secretary-general in 2016 and was elected president in 2018.

Meru University of Science and Technology is home to Kenya's first standard baseball field.

Kenya hosted the East Africa Olympic pre-Qualifier in 2019. Five of the eight Regions of Kenya (Western, Rift Valley, Nairobi, Eastern and Coastal) and 20 out of 47 counties now play baseball.

"I anticipate a massive growth of the game," commented Mutwiri.

The Jackie Robinson National Championship is Kenya's primary adult baseball club event. Regional tournaments qualify for the U-12, U-15, U-18, U-23 and Women's National Championships.

"We would be ready to field National Teams in each category," added Mutwiri. "I think Africa needs to have Continental Qualifiers to WBSC events. I hoped we could organise a U-18 Baseball World Cup Qualifier in Kenya, but it wasn't possible. That was a disappointment."

Most of the activity in Kenya is on converted soccer fields. The Nairobi Buffaloes, an amateur team made of American and Canadian expatriates, provide financial support and technical assistance to the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to develop a new baseball field.

The lack of standard fields is also an obstacle to softball development.

"This is one of the reasons Baseball5 offers great opportunities," commented Njeru. "The other one is the lack of proper equipment. At the moment, we rely on the WBSC, the American Embassy and second-hand equipment."

The pioneers, who started playing the bat and ball games as a hobby in the early 1990s, formed the Kenya Baseball and Softball Association (KEBSA). In 1996, the Kenya National Sports Council advised KEBSA to manage the two sports separately. The baseball and softball federations thus split. Solomon Gacece led the baseball federation, and Fridah Shiroya led the softball federation. Njeru is the successor of Shiroya.

"While teaching at the High Ridge Teacher's College in Nairobi, people trying to develop softball in Kenya approached me," Njeru told the WBSC. "I fell in love with the game immediately and ended up becoming the Women's National Team manager. When we travelled to Zimbabwe for the Beijing Olympic Qualifier, it was the first time I left Kenya."

Njeru was instrumental in creating the women's and men's leagues in 2009.
"I thought the competition we had was not enough and that we needed more activity. We started with five men's and five women's teams. We have now 12 participants both in the men's and women's leagues."

Both leagues operate at the university level: "University in Kenya means over 17 years," said Njeru. "We have a lot of kids who start from scratch playing softball at that age. This makes it difficult to develop top players."

Before starting massive activity with other age groups, Njeru believes he needs to strengthen the university leagues.

"The next step would be making softball and extra-curricular activity in primary schools."

Kenya participated in the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship 2016. Recently the Men's National Team appeared on the international stage.

"We played in the WBSC World Cup Qualifier with South Africa and Botswana. They are still out of reach, but we came back with a lot of experience and the awareness we need to develop our pitching further."