SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In the United States, baseball is easily found. Kids can start playing in organized leagues around age 5 and can continue through high school. The top players move on to travel teams with a national schedule before signing with a college program at several different levels, with
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In the United States, baseball is easily found. Kids can start playing in organized leagues around age 5 and can continue through high school. The top players move on to travel teams with a national schedule before signing with a college program at several different levels, with the ultimate payoff leading to the professional game.
That's not the case in Uganda.
It's a little easier at some of the other 10 countries represented at the MLB College Showcase this week in Arizona, but nothing like here. Baseball is a lot harder to find elsewhere.
"My friends all play soccer, and don't even know how to play baseball," said Daniele Di Monte, a 16-year-old pitcher from Italy. "It wasn't always easy to find a team or a place to practice. There aren't a lot of fields like there are here."
Di Monte had it easy compared to Dennis Achidri.
"No one played baseball in Uganda," the 16-year-old pitcher said. "I knew nothing about baseball. When I first saw someone putting on the catcher's gear, I thought it was a robot. That's when I said I have to put on that gear. Then I fell in love with the game and was willing to do whatever it took to play the game. I had to walk to several kilometers to get to practice because I didn't have transportation."
Giving players from non-traditional baseball countries an opportunity to play the game in the States, and participate in a pro-style workout like they did on Monday at Salt River Field, was the impetus behind creating the MLB College Showcase three years ago.
The players selected to the World Team come to the U.S., get instruction from top coaches, play against Minor League and college teams, and get a chance to play in front of college and professional scouts. They are also introduced to the structure and inner workings of college baseball, from the junior college level to big-time programs like Arizona State, where the players will get a tour on Tuesday.
"It started after we started looking at the success rate of European and Australian players as they come into to pro ball," said Max Thomas, the senior coordinator, Baseball & Softball Development, MLB. "They just don't have the game experience that American players do and then they are asked to go compete against first- and second-round picks for a roster spot. While the ultimate goal is still professional baseball, this trip also shows the varying opportunities to continue playing baseball in the United States."
It has already happened in one case as Netherlands pitcher Angelo Wickert, 20, was offered a scholarship on Saturday by Arizona Western after the World Team traveled to Yuma to take on Arizona Western.
"I didn't expect it," said Wickert, who will join the program in January. "It was all so quick, and it was a lot to take it in. It's the dream -- to play in America. This is what I want. I was so excited, and I couldn't believe it at first. A lot of happiness from inside."
It's the goal for the 31 players in camp this week, but most aren't old enough to get there just yet. That's not the case with Netherlands catcher Denzel Bryson, who recently signed with the Braves and will report next season.
"It means everything to me," Bryson said. "I wanted to do this for my dad [Reggie Bryson]. He played for Aruba at a high level but had to stop because, unfortunately, his mother died in car accident and he had to work. He is my inspiration to make it to the big leagues someday."
Bryson is on his way, but until then, he gets to go through the rest of the week at the MLB College Showcase with his World Team members from places like the Czech Republic, China, Ecuador, France, Germany, New Zealand and South Africa.
It makes for an interesting dynamic not only on team bus rides or in the hotel, but on the field as well, as they all try to acclimate to the surroundings for the week.
"It can be difficult talking to each other," said Travis Bazzana, a 16-year-old shortstop from Australia. "It's important that we communicate, especially in the middle infield where I play. We have to simplify things so we can figure it out, and luckily, baseball has its own language."
Jason P. Skoda is a contributor to MLB.com based in Phoenix.