At a time when Cricket World Cup has gripped the entire nation, Major League Baseball (MLB) has been tasked with growing baseball in India. MLB’s senior vice president, Jim Small, thinks Indians will adapt easily as they play cricket and hence already possess the right skill sets to play baseball.
To start with, they will introduce the game in 300 schools across New Delhi, Bangaluru and Mumbai. In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, Jim talks about his plans of introducing baseball to young students and why he thinks the sport will create a space for itself in a country where cricket reign supreme.
Q. How do you plan to inculcate baseball among Indians?
A. I grew up in a place in the United States where if you played football, it was a bit strange. Earlier, nobody played football because it wasn’t cool. That has now changed. Football in the United States is very popular and it took a generation to do that. We want to provide the same environment to the kids in India and to do that, Baseball should be played in schools. Kids should be able to watch it on television and social media, buy its products…probably an Indian player as well to look up as a role model. If we take all these things together, there is a chance that we could be successful and make India a baseball playing nation.
Q. So, what’s the blueprint? How do you plan to make India a baseball playing nation?
A. A lot of it becomes much easier if there is demand. So, we would create opportunity for students. If they start playing the sport, demand will be created and then we will move on to the next thing. They also have to have the facilities to buy equipments.
Q. Do you think the fact that Indians already play cricket which is similar to baseball in terms of accessories involved, it would be much easier to take up the sport?
A. We have been involved in China for about 10 years. We have been fortunate and very successful there. China is very different from India. With patience and fan engagement, we became successful there. In India, we think it’s even better. Chinese didn’t grow up in a culture of bat-ball sport. They don’t throw balls, don’t catch it and don’t know how to hit it. Here, they do. They possess the skill-set to play baseball.
Q. Are you planning to take the game at grassroot level where anyone and everyone will be able to play it like cricket? What’s the time frame?
A. We don’t know it yet. Maybe three years down the line, we will shift our focus on something along the lines of gully cricket. We have already done it in UK where the sport is also played in smaller states.
Q. In a country where cricket is regarded as a religion, do you think Indians will take up a sport which is completely new to them?
A. Yes, I think we can be successful in creating a space in the culture here for baseball. As you know, sporting culture in India has changed a lot in the last few years. It has become much more accepted now to play sports in schools. They have started understanding the value of it and it is a part of education process now. Baseball is an international sport, it’s a global game. I hope it makes a space for itself. Our owners have told me: go do it. They know it’s going to take some time and they have to be patient.
Q. Why do you think Indians should play this sport?
A. Three reasons. A) Baseball is a sport anybody can play – short, big, small, Indian, American…anyone. B) It is a global game. If you choose to become a baseball player, you can perform at the international stage. We are going to be in Olympics. There is a world championship called World Baseball Classic. So, you are joining something that is global. C) It is fun sport to play. We think a young boy and girl who has already played cricket can excel quickly in baseball.