There’s no direct route from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Ado Ekiti, a Nigerian state located in Western Africa. But by emulating the Little League principles of “Courage, Character and Loyalty”, some goodwill from Woonsocket found its way across the Atlantic to Nigeria, where a gesture of kindness enabled a group of African baseball enthusiasts the opportunity to play ball.
Many kids in the United States are accustomed to grabbing their glove and bat, then heading to the field where a bucket of baseballs and neatly manicured fields await. But for kids in Nigeria, who share a similar passion for the game, gloves, bats and even baseballs are a luxury. For many years, the kids of the Ekiti Kete Little League Baseball and Softball Association played with equipment created by the kids: gloves fashioned from cardboard; homemade baseballs held together with wire; and hand-carved bats. (One of those hand-made cardboard gloves is showcased in the World Little League Museum in Williamsport, Pa.) What they lacked in professional equipment, they made up for with a love for the game.
Despite their best efforts, Ekri Kete Little League Baseball and Softball Association recently faced a daunting challenge due to the lack of equipment: cancel the season, or hope for a miracle.
The Ekri Kete League reached out to Pitch In for Baseball (PIFB) with an urgent request for equipment. According to PIFB, it is a nonprofit organization that provides new and gently used baseball and softball equipment to boys and girls in the United States and around the world who want to play ball but lack the equipment to do so. PIFB responded to that request with more than $1,600 worth of equipment such as gloves, catchers’ gear, baseballs, helmets, bats and uniforms – some of which was provided thanks to a generous donation from Woonsocket Little League in Rhode Island. The donation was the first of its kind for the Nigerian league.
Through a message sent by way of Facebook messenger, Aina Sunday Oluwafemi, a parent, coach and umpire of Ekiti Kete Little League expressed his sincere appreciation to the generous folks from Woonsocket.
“I want to say a big thank you to Woonsocket Little League for donating their used equipment to the Pitch in for Baseball organization and at the same time I want to appreciate Pitch in for Baseball organization for the donations,” shared Oluwafemi.
Not only did the new gear enable the Nigerian baseball players to play baseball, but the gear also allowed two left-handed players – Esther and Oluwapelumi – to finally use gloves made for left-handers. For many years they were forced to use gloves for right-handers; they simply had no other options. For the first time in their Little League careers, Esther and Oluwapelumi threw with hand-appropriate gloves.
When the players of Ekri Little League took the field this season – many barefoot as cleats are a luxury afforded to very few kids in Africa – they did so adorned in “Braves” and all-star jerseys donated from Woonsocket.
“We made this donation just after we decided to merge Bernon and East Woonsocket, we had a lot of old equipment and it was basically throw it out or find a place to donate it to,” said Mike St. German, president of Woonsocket Little League. “Ssomeone on the board at the time heard about Pitch in for Baseball and Softball so we decided to put the old equipment to good use by donating it vs throwing it away.”
Baseball was introduced in Ado-Ekiti in 1989. In November 2004, Ado-Ekiti Little League Baseball and Softball was chartered with Little League International and is recognized in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Due to lack of equipment, interest in the game waned for a number of years, but Oluwafemi reintroduced the game in 2016 with the help of a volunteer in Minnesota.
Thanks to the equipment donated by Woonsocket Little League and the efforts of Pitch in for Baseball, the kids in Nigeria have a number of opportunities to grow their interest in the game of baseball.