Federation Focus: The birth of baseball/softball in Palestine

Federation Focus: The birth of baseball/softball in Palestine
An inspired professional soccer player helped to establish baseball and softball officially in Palestine.

In the fall of 2016, Mahmoud Tafesh, a 34-year old professional soccer player representing Palestine, was in Egypt. He got in touch with a coach of the National Baseball Team of Iraq.

Tafesh did not know anything about baseball. He was nonetheless very impressed by the game and decided to implement it in Palestine. Three years later, he helped establish the Palestinian Baseball and Softball Federation in 2017, where he is the head of baseball and softball committee.

"We feel so proud that we are members of the World Baseball Softball Confederation," said Tafesh through an interpreter at the WBSC Congress in Sekai, Japan. "This gives us responsibilities."

Tafesh recalled that he returned to Palestine in late 2016 with a clear goal.

"I wanted to put baseball on the map," he said. "I tried to educate myself through the internet. I surfed YouTube, watched a lot of videos. I did not get any training, I did it all by myself. I probably missed something, but after four months I felt I was ready to start."

Tafesh lives in the Gaza Strip, a part of Palestine on the Mediterranean Sea that borders with Egypt and Israel.

"I reached out to athletes who already played soccer, basketball, volleyball and I found out they were interested in the new sport. At first, only 13 joined. They involved other athletes and we reached 50."

Tafesh used his own money to fund the project.

"I spent all I had to rent the spaces to practice," he said. "When I didn't have enough money, I took the players to the beach. There we had enough space for baseball practice."

The first Palestine baseball players were boys.

"Due to our traditions, it's not always easy to involve women in sports," Tafesh explained. "Baseball and softball do not have as much physical contact as soccer or basketball. This is how I involved girls."

The first 20 women attracted other players and the number rapidly grew to 60. The players were required to wear long sleeves, loose pants and a hijab during practice. Girls played their games pitching underhand, so they were encouraged to play softball.

Tafesh's players could count only on one proper baseball glove, which was donated by the Ministry of Sport. He received the support of a local tailor who made more gloves from leather. A carpenter shaped some wooden bats out of sticks.

Baseball in the Gaza Strip still attracted attention.

"The players started to film themselves and shared the videos on social media," recalled Tafesh

In October 2017 Sarah Koskievic of the daily newspaper Le Monde made the story public in France. It reached Laura Layousse, a French citizen born in Senegal by a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. Layousse contacted Le Monde and could connect with Tafesh.

Layousse decided to contact the French Federation of Baseball and Softball (FFBS). FFBS President Didier Seminet put her in touch with WBSC headquarters in Lausanne, and on 29 April 2018, mini baseball/softball starter’s kits and equipment for two baseball and two softball teams were delivered to Tafesh.

"The fact I got proper equipment motivated me to push the project further," commented Tafesh. "Since I had started, many people had tried to call me off, telling me I was wasting my time. I wanted to do this, in spite of all opinions."

The number of players grew to 60 men, 60 women and 30 kids under the age of 15. With the expansion, Tafesh could create five men's and five women's teams.

By September 2018, Tafesh was working with over 100 men, practising three times a week, 80 women, getting together every week, and 60 children. He succeeded in creating six youth teams competing in a league.

In October 2018, Tafesh introduced Baseball5 to the Gaza Strip.

"We thought from the beginning that Baseball5 was perfect because it was easier to play," commented Tafesh. "At the Congress I attended the Baseball5 Workshop and I found it very useful. We are now planning to make it happen more in school for youngsters, especially those who are not involved in clubs."

In January 2019, Crescent won an eight-team tournament beating Alahi. The other six participating teams were Shati Club, Al Karama Clun, Arab Victory Club, Al Bureih Service Club, Al Aqsa Club and Al Anan Sport Club. Tafesh's brother Ahmed served as a competition committee official.

Baseball has become a family affair for the Tafeshes. His wife is one of the female players and an umpire. His daughters both play softball: the older is a 15-year old pitcher, the younger is a 12-year old catcher. His older son is a 10-year old catcher and the youngest child, who just turned eight, has just started playing.

"I started playing too," added Tafesh. "I believe my role at the federation is more important. Still, I want to mention that, when I played my team won."

2019 has been a terrific year for baseball, softball and Baseball5 in the Gaza Strip.

"When I started, I had five steps in my mind. I can say I accomplished the first three: run competitions, get recognized by the National Olympic Committee and get recognized by WBSC."

The goal for 2020 is to accomplish the final two.

"We are trying to organize clinics and courses for coaches, umpires and scorers. After that, we will try to participate in international competitions," said Tafesh, on a final note.