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Pakistan's WBC debut 20 years in the making

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- For manager Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, the fact that the Pakistan national baseball team is here, in New York, playing in the World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds, means everything.

In 1992, his father, Syed Khawar Shah, founded Pakistan Federation Baseball, the governing body of baseball in Pakistan. On Thursday, at the Brooklyn Cyclones' stadium on Coney Island, Pakistan played its first World Baseball Classic game.

NEW YORK -- For manager Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, the fact that the Pakistan national baseball team is here, in New York, playing in the World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds, means everything.

In 1992, his father, Syed Khawar Shah, founded Pakistan Federation Baseball, the governing body of baseball in Pakistan. On Thursday, at the Brooklyn Cyclones' stadium on Coney Island, Pakistan played its first World Baseball Classic game.

"We have been working for the last 20 years to promote baseball in Pakistan," Shah said. "This one event is equal to the 20 years."

World Baseball Classic coverage

Even as Pakistan lost, 10-0, to Brazil in the first game of the Brooklyn qualifier, which will determine the final country to make the 16-team field for the 2017 WBC, Shah watched proudly. The publicity from the tournament, he said -- from mainstream media and the 28 players on his roster, via social media accounts and word-of-mouth when they return home -- will have an enormous impact on spreading baseball in Pakistan.

"Each player is from a different area of Pakistan," Shah said. "The word goes out."

The Cyclones' stadium is a new world for the Pakistan players, who don't have maintained baseball fields in Pakistan, where the sport lacks infrastructure and is in the early stages of development. The Federation runs free clinics, but young players have to travel from far away to experience any baseball at all.

"Every match, every ball, my players are learning," Shah said. "There is a difference to playing baseball in this kind of atmosphere. They've never played on this kind of field. I call them 'grounds.' Because in Pakistan, we don't have baseball fields, we have soccer grounds; we play there."

Of the countries in the qualifier -- Pakistan, Brazil, Israel, Great Britain -- Pakistan is the only one without any professional or MLB-affiliated players. Pakistan has never produced a Major Leaguer.

Video: 9/22/16: Brazil defeats Pakistan 10-0 via mercy rule

The situation is in certain respects akin to what Brazil has gone through. In Brazil, soccer is king, and it has been difficult to develop baseball despite the country's large population and talented athletes -- although more young players are picking up the sport, like 15-year-old Eric Pardinho, who pitched Thursday and hit 94 mph.

"As far as the growth of baseball in Brazil, I believe that now with the Major Leaguers from Brazil, and the players in Triple-A and Double-A playing here in the U.S., baseball in Brazil will grow much more than before," Pardinho said through a translator.

When Brazil made it to the main draw of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, catcher Yan Gomes was the only Brazilian-born player to have made the Major Leagues. Two more have since, pitcher Andre Rienzo and outfielder Paulo Orlando. All three were on the 2013 WBC roster (Gomes only for the qualifiers), and Rienzo is again on the team.

In that light, Brazil manager and MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who also managed Brazil in 2013, said he was impressed by Pakistan's showing.

"You can obviously see that the game is developing in their country, and they're making some of the same mistakes we made," Larkin said.

Pakistan, Larkin noted, is a cricket country -- not to the degree that Brazil is a soccer country, but the sport still eclipses baseball. Many players on Pakistan's WBC roster are converted cricketers.

Starting shortstop Arsalan Jamashaid, for example, was playing cricket while serving in the Pakistani military, until the coach of the military baseball team spotted him and converted him to baseball. Now, Jamashaid said, it's baseball "100 percent, nothing else."

"When I go back, all my friends, all the people who love me playing, I will be an example for them," Jamashaid said through Shah, who was translating. "And that's why we work hard on this."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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