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Uganda Little League team concludes journey

Scrimmage in Trenton, contribution to 'Play Ball' initiative precedes trip to Africa

TRENTON, N.J. -- It was their last day in the U.S., the close of an unforgettable journey during which Uganda's darlings charmed crowds at the Little League World Series. They raised their own baseball and geography IQs; met new friends; enjoyed air, coach bus and luxury hotel life for the first time; spent two nights at Trenton Thunder Double-A games and even helped with Major League Baseball's new "Play Ball" initiative for youth inclusion.

Oh, and these impressive 11- and 12-year-old boys, who beat the Dominican Republic before bowing out against Venezuela and Chinese Taipei, said goodbye to their American hosts by crushing some more home runs, executing more double steals, making more barehanded plays, beating out more sure outs and blazing more fastballs.

Now, after a six-inning scrimmage with the Chambersburg Little League team under a bright sun Tuesday at Columbus Park -- a goodwill afternoon of sportsmanship that followed the ultimate intensity of competition for their sport's age -- it is back to Africa via 30 hours of travel through Johannesburg. Then it is home once more to boarding school, their athletic pursuits and their classes, which begin next week.

The Ugandans dream of professional baseball careers, and four or five of them are projected early on as prospects. Why not? They might even be leaders of a future MLB hotbed, like the D.R. They dream not only of futures in the pros, but also of futures in American colleges, on half-sports and half-academic scholarships, of chances to be scientists, engineers and world leaders. They dream big, with perspective. Scouts will be over to see them soon enough.

"I've learned, first of all, how to play the games," said Francis Alemo, a pitcher and center fielder who hit a laser homer in the first inning on Tuesday. "Because here [in the U.S.], you have to be competitive. You have to cooperate with your friends in the game. If they are winning, you have to keep in the spirit of winning. You have to develop more spirit so that you win the game."

"Most of the people are friendly -- and a lot of people here come from other countries," said teammate Nicholas Alumai, who hit a towering homer over the right-field wall in the second inning. "It was a good experience. You meet more friends and you learn more about the game."

Trenton facilitated both games, honoring the Ugandans at their own home game Monday night and then inviting them for a last game to watch Tuesday night. In addition to Alemo and Alumai, the Uganda players in Trenton included Felix Canpara, Joshua Muwanguzi, Hussein Kato, Constantine Mubiru, Jovan Edaku, Julius Kazibwe, Joshua Olara, Hassan Wasswa and Pius Echoni.

Dick Stanley, a Trenton part-owner and retired chemical engineer in New York, is the Uganda team's sponsor. He also sponsors Uganda's girls softball team, which was playing in Portland, Ore., while the boys were at the LLWS. He considered the trip a great success, and he hopes interest will now follow the Uganda kids back to their homeland.

"Whether kids come from Africa or from the U.S., baseball is something that is unifying to everybody," Stanley said. "The sportsmanship is an example that is used when people see Uganda, and something we would love to see across the U.S."

As an example, after two innings on Tuesday (Uganda led, 8-0), the two teams mixed their rosters for four innings, a show of unity.

Former Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer and current mayor Eric Jackson both were in attendance and spoke to the youngsters before the game, representative of the widespread mayoral involvement in youth baseball thanks to the new joint initiative by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and USA Baseball. More than 125 cities, covering 34 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, signed on as designated "Play Ball" cities for the inaugural "Play Ball Month" of August.

"It's critically important," Jackson said of Play Ball. "With the leadership of our U.S. Conference of Mayors and Major League Baseball, [we are] seeing the need to have a reinstitution of baseball back in our urban centers. It's something we discussed in our last meeting. I'm proud to be a mayor here in Trenton, to make sure this initiative grows in our city, and that we engage with Major League Baseball. Not only is it the sport of baseball, but it also teaches so many other things as well to our children, so we're proud to be a part of it."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.