My trip with Pearl of Africa Series 2 is quickly coming to an end here. I have been here in Uganda for 2 weeks now. It’s a short time, but I feel like I have gotten to know this beautiful and its lovely people so well. Now I am sad to leave, but feel very hopeful for the future of baseball in this country.

My mission for this trip is to conduct a scouting video workshop with local coaches so that they can produce videos locally and sustainably to showcase the local baseball talenst to the world. The videos will also be useful for coaching purposes. On top of that I am also here to shoot a short documentary as an update of Peal of Africa Series 1 that took place 2.5 years ago. 

It’s very inspiring to see how much baseball has developed in the last 2.5 years. It also means the world to me to see the kids that we have been supporting are now doing well in school and moving on to a new chapter of their lives. 

More photos and videos from this trip are coming soon. I can’t wait to share this amazing experience

Just some quick snap shots from last Saturday at Nate Bailey Stadium. It was a quick shoot, but a very meaningful for me. To me it marked the beginning of Pearl of Africa Series II for me. Nearly 2 years ago I travelled to Uganda with our local Langley little league baseball team. The story is told here: http://www.sportsnet.ca/fair-ball-from-canada-to-uganda/. 

Now, I am getting ready to return to Uganda. In January and February I will be in Uganda for 3 weeks to teach a baseball scouting video workshop, shoot some scouting videos of the excellent local talents there, and shoot a small documentary on the progress Pearl of Africa Series has made in the last 2 years. I am beyond excited to see all my friends in Uganda again.

In these photos here, Dr. Ed Conway, POAS coordinator Ruth Hoffman, along with volunteers Sandy and Jeff, are packing up boxes of equipment donated to POAS. It was really great to see so much baseball equipment has been donated, but the kids in Uganda can definitely use more. No more games  stopped because a ball has disappeared in the grass. No more running on bare feet. No more injuries. 

These equipment will be on its way to Uganda in the next little while. So will I.

Fair Ball, Sportsnet’s documentary on the Canada Uganda baseball series premeres tomorrow April 1st! It’s going to be amazing to re-live the experience through the documentary. I cannot wait! 

It will also air repeatedly during the month of April.

For the first airing it will be titled “MLB SEASON PREVIEW on your TV guide.

Thereafter your guide will say “FAIR BALL.

For those of you in BC:

Sunday April 1st

Sportsnet Pacific channel

1pm-230pm pst (a one-hour MLB Preview followed by the half-hour Fair Ball doc) 

2pm pst (Fair Ball doc)

8pm-930pm pst (a one-hour MLB Preview followed by the half-hour Fair Ball doc)

9pm pst (Fair Ball doc)

For those of you in Ontario:

Sunday April 1st

Sportsnet Ontario channel

4pm-530pm est (a one-hour MLB Preview followed by the half-hour Fair Ball doc) 

5pm est (Fair Ball doc)

8pm-930pm est (a one-hour MLB Preview followed by the half-hour Fair Ball doc)

9pm est (Fair Ball doc)

The first solo airing of FAIR BALL (without the MLB PREVIEW SHOW) will be on Sunday April 8th on all Sportsnet channels at 12pm est, 9am pst.

Kenneth and Conner swapped jersey game at Kyambogo was a hit Right to Play came to lead some games Trevor always plays hard I finally got to meet Kid Ivan just sparks when he plays I had to say good bye to my friend Edgar Time to leave Coach Dean gave his last encouragements Jay and Ruth. It all started with them

Jan 21st was our last day in Uganda. So very quickly the trip was coming to an end. Although I had been exhausted from photographing during the day and editing/filing the images at night, my spirit could not help but pick up when I see the kids. They have so much joy on their faces, especially when they play. On this last day we played at Kyambogo, Ivan’s home turf. It felt like a picnic and party. Tents and BBQ were set up by the field. There was music blaring. Right to Play came to lead some games for all the kids. Of course by today the kids were best friends. They sat together, fooled around, played some really good baseball, and finally, it was time to say good bye. There was a little bit of tears ( mostly the adults… ), but if I had to describe it in one word, I think without a doubt it’s “hope”. The kids are going to be just fine, and I am excited for them for their bright future. Baseball is not the magic bullet to solve all the problems. Nothings is. But through baseball, I see enormous strength and wisdom in these kids. Uganda, Canada, the world. We are in good hands if we create more experiences like this for our future generation. Our kids don’t need us to hold their hands.  They just need the opportunity to go out and play. They are more than capable of figuring things out on their own. More often than not, there are many things we can learn from them. Thank you guys for allowing me the opportunity to be part of this amazing journey. I am very fortunate to be inspired by you all. The sincerity, curiosity, and joy. I am learning, but I hope one day I will be like you guys, always running at full speed with so much joy.

This is the end of my diary for my Uganda trip. Sportsnet also came along to Uganda to make a wonderful TV documentary. It’s airing this Sunday  on Sportsnet at 2pm PST and 5PM EST. Here is a link to the preview: http://righttoplay.akaraisin.com/YouthBaseball. If you are inspired by these kids, please consider donating to Right to Play. 

Sportsnet Magazine is also running an iPad special on this story this month with my photo essay. Here is the link to purchase the magazine on iTunes. 

As part of the Pearl of Africa Baseball Series, the Canadian and the Ugandan teams travel together to a couple of other cities in Uganda to put on baseball clinics and play with the local team. On day 7 of our trip we went to Jinja, the lush and beautiful town known as the origin of the Nile River. It was pretty awe inspiring looking at the river and thinking that spot is probably the beginning of human civilization.. or specie. Pretty powerful stuff.

In Jinja we played with this very good local team coached by a Japanese volunteer Couji-san. Jimmy Rollins also still traveled all the way with us to Jinja. I don’t know if any of the local kids recognized him, but to me it spoke volume of Jimmy’s character when he took the time to approach the local kids and shared his baseball knowledge.

Also I think for a lot of us it was the first time we hear a timeout called by the umpire because a motorcycle was racing through the centre field. After a few friendly innings, the Canadian parents treated everyone with a peanut butter jelly sandwich picnic lunch. I got a kick out of looking at the amazing sandwich assembly line the parents put together. With their teenage sons I am sure they have had plenty of practice.

In all it was another great day filled with baseball, friendship, and laughter. Our time in Uganda was almost coming to an end. We leave Uganda the next day, but we still had one more game to go. I didn’t want it to end.

After the big game between Uganda and Canada, we went on a road trip to Lyantonde, about 200km south west of Kampala. It took us about 4-5 hours to travel that distance on the bumpy dirt roads in our little buses. The scenery was lush and beautiful, but everybody was exhausted from the game earlier that day. I gotta say our Canadian kids are troopers. The hot weather isn’t something they are used to, but never once did I hear any complaints. 

Once we got to Lyantonde, our first stop was Salama Shield, a NGO that focuses on alleviating health and poverty related challenges. I was absolutely exhausted, but my spirit got a big boost when I heard the beautiful songs and drum beats coming from the music group at Salama Shield. There was also a basketball court nearby. Jason the documentary cameraman and I couldn’t resist the idea of a tall lanky white dude and a short stubby asian dude playing street ball in Uganda, so we joined in for a pickup game with the local kids. That’s where I lost a piece of skin on my eyebrow… I think. I now have a big scar on my eyebrow, but it’s all good. I’d like to think it’s a permanent gift from Africa. 

I was really overwhelmed by the hospitality at Salama Shield. I know they don’t have much, but they still put on a big meal for us. While we ate, the drummers, dancers, and singers performed for us. I don’t know how other people could sit still. I couldn’t at all. I had to join in the dance. I am pretty sure I made a fool of myself, but the way I look at it, a little bit of entertainment from me was the least I could do to show them how much I appreciated the hospitality. 

After the dinner I got to sit down outside in the warm breeze with some local kids for a nice conversation and a private lesson in Ugandan. Jabaleko Thank you for your work. Nsanuse Kukoo la va I am very happy to see you. oli mu qua no quan ge You are my friend. 

These were exactly the words I wanted to say to the people at Salama Shield. Thank you for having us, my friends. I appreciate your hospitality, but most of all I appreciate the hard work you guys put in long term to help making a difference in Uganda. Jabaleko. 

Yi-an and Yi-Fan talented brothers Gingo and Cole best buddies Edgar my little photo assistant Jonah the trouble maker Abooki Gingo Ugandan cowboy Coach George Ivan and his home Kid

Here so some of my friends in Uganda. Each of them has a story they can tell through baseball. I am really fortunate to have met them. The very talented but shy Taiwanese Canadian brothers who pushed other to become the best Gingo the first Ungandan cowboy. Cole and Gingo best buddies. Edgar my little photo assistant. Ivan who lives in the equipment shack. Coach George who created this strong baseball team despite all kinds of challenges. Abooki the smallest player who won the big game for Uganda. ”Kid” who lost a finger in an accident but would not give up his baseball journey… 

I am really fortunate to have met you all. Thank you for allowing me to tell your stories through these photographs.

Uganda rushed the field to celebrate Lots of locals showed up for the game Canadians shared a moment together Ugandans getting read Young players looked on The winning play My little heros

Finally it was the big  game day

Right from the beginning I could feel the buzz in the air in this little baseball field surrounded by hills and farms. The locals were arriving in buses blowing their horns, shouting baseball, baseball. The Ugandan kids were loose and fooling around. The Canadian kids were calm and collected. 

Before the the game began, I already knew there can’t be a loser in this game. Months of hard work by the organizers and volunteers have paid off. The game that should have happened in the Little League World Series is finally happening, except it’s now taking place on their home field of dreams. Everything looked almost too good to be true.

But it was true. The 2 teams played a fantastic game. Uganda scored early to take a 1-0 lead. As the Canadians shook of their rust,  they came back to tie the game 1-1 at the top of 6th, the last inning. Bottom of 6ht, Abooki, the youngest and littlest player on the Uganda team, got on the base with a beautiful single. He had this huge smile on his face as he celebrated with a little dance. But just as he has always been so quick to smile, he stole the second base. Then the 3rd base. Augustus followed with a walk-off RBI single. Of course, the game just had to end with the littlest guy coming back home to score the winning run for Uganda. 2-1.

The players and the crowd rushed the field, propping Abooki up on their shoulders. The Canadians looked on, all with the biggest smiles on their faces. Me? I found myself taken over by the moment, with a bit of tears in my eyes. 

*Update: Here is a great article by ESPN’s Steve Wulf on the game. Much more detailed: http://es.pn/xCn7GI

If you are inspired by these children, please consider donating to Right to Play: http://righttoplay.akaraisin.com/YouthBaseball