Former NFL QB Gibran Hamdan commits to Team Pakistan

August 18th, 2022

When Team Pakistan takes the field at the Pool B qualifiers in Panama next month, there may be a familiar face stepping to the plate -- only this time, his helmet will be a little different than the one he's best known for.

On Thursday, Gibran Hamdan -- the first player of Pakistani descent in NFL history after he was drafted by Washington in 2003 -- announced on Twitter that he had accepted an invitation from Pakistan's baseball federation for the upcoming tournament.

"I'm letting you know that I accepted an invitation from the Pakistan National Baseball Team to play for them in the World Baseball [Classic] qualifiers coming up Sept. 30 in Panama City, Panama," Hamdan said on Twitter. "Super excited to be playing ball again."

Though he may have professional experience in the NFL with five different organizations and was named the 2006 NFL Europe MVP while playing for the Amsterdam Admirals, Hamdan's first love was baseball ever since he learned it as a youngster living in Kuwait.

"I actually learned [baseball] from Japanese immigrants when I was there," Hamdan told during a recent Zoom call. "The reason I can play D is when you play on all dirt fields in Kuwait with sandstorms and stuff, you get good at fielding a ground ball."

Screengrab via @GibranHamdan on Instagram

After moving to America, Hamdan showed up at a tryout and quickly impressed, soon becoming a part of Team USA's 15-and-unders at tournaments in China and Japan. That led to him playing two sports at Indiana University. Though football became his career, he stood out on the diamond: In his junior season, Hamdan posted an impressive .335/.389/.509 batting line with 6 home runs.

"I played four years of baseball and then in my senior year, I was a captain," Hamdan said. "We made the Big 10 tourney, and the truth is I didn't hit for much power. I was always hovering in the mid-.300s batting average, great defensive first baseman. So, the commentary I got from scouts was we can't call in a 6-foot-5, 235-pound first baseman -- this was the McGwire, Sosa era -- that can't hit for power."

Before Hamdan could join up with Team Pakistan though, he needed to show he could still play. That meant he had to record a workout video. Needing someone to help him, he reached out to the only person he could think of: His former Buffalo Bills teammate, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"I was basically like, 'Yo, I got no one to throw to me. I've got no facility. I don't know anybody here. Could you help me?' And Ryan is a very helpful person that way, especially when it comes to this kind of stuff," Hamdan said. "So, through a connection, he got in touch with -- of all people -- [D-backs legend] Luis Gonzalez, who lives a stone's throw away from where I'm currently at. And they basically set up this whole little workout for me at his house, because he's got a full cage, a field turf backyard, etc."

Though Fitzpatrick was a little wary and made sure there was a net behind Hamdan in case he missed any balls, the skills from decades of practice quickly came back to the former Indiana University star.

"I would have thought it would have been way worse than it was, but it's something about the amount of work I put into baseball versus football," Hamdan said. "At the end of the day, it's eye-hand coordination. I mean, that's what the sport is and that's always been one of my strengths. And I practiced it way more than I ever did football. Growing up every single day, it was baseball all the time."

Reaching out to Hamdan represents a different way of approaching the roster this time around, too. After Pakistan was shut out in its first ever WBC qualifier in 2017, the team is looking for more players of Pakistani descent that are currently playing sports this time around.

"There are many American and Canadian Pakistanis who are good players and are playing baseball or American football in high school, colleges and universities, but few will reach [the highest level]. Having him [on] our team, he would be a role model for [players of] Pakistani heritage to play baseball," Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, the head of Pakistan's baseball federation, said in an email. "Also, parents with Pakistani heritage would [then] support their children in learning baseball and other games professionally."

Hamdan is expected to play first base, and the No. 31-ranked team by the WBSC will be looking to cause some upsets when the Pool B qualifiers begin next month. Hamdan's not sure what to expect, but knows he'll be as mentally and physically prepared as possible.

"I think the most important thing is that the young kids that are on the team have a platform to produce and show what they can do -- especially if they want to further their careers," Hamdan said. "I can only imagine back when I was like, 18 to 21, getting this opportunity. In terms of my NFL and college career, like, you get in front of the right scout and you have the right performance at the right time, and things open up."