In 1889, the Chicago White Stockings and a collection of National League players dubbed the All-Americas set out on a journey to share America’s pastime across the globe. The teams traveled to New Zealand, Australia and Italy, but their signature stop on the worldwide goodwill tour was Egypt, where the players explored the ancient civilization and played an exhibition game in the shadow of the pyramids on the Giza Plateau. Ballplayers from America visited with the leaders and citizens of Egypt, building bridges across cultures where few had existed before.
In 1914, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants would return to Cairo on a trip planned by John McGraw and Charles Comiskey. Rosters included future Hall of Fame players Christy Mathewson and Tris Speaker, and Jim Thorpe, who had recently taken the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics by storm. As legend has it, Giants catcher Ivy Wingo threw a ball over the Sphinx from 100 yards away! McGraw noted that the trip was “successful in every feature.”
Unfortunately, due to a changing geopolitical landscape that included two world wars, 1914 would be the last time two teams would visit Egypt.
As mesmerized as the locals were by the game, there was something familiar about baseball. In fact, the historical record (from tombs and temples in the south of Egypt) indicates that a baseball-like sports may have a precursor in ancient times—reliefs show pharaohs holding what appear to be bats and balls. Either way, baseball holds a somewhat mythical position in Egypt’s history and its people’s imaginations.
Today, Because Baseball is writing the next chapter of this historical narrative, as its team of Egyptians and Americans are bringing baseball back to the people of Egypt, lead by founder Kemp Gouldin, who had been a Sales and Marketing Executive with a BS in Biology from the University of North Carolina before taking the leap and following his passion.
IP: What is your background in baseball?
I like to tell people I spent a single season at the lowest and highest levels of the game – one season playing tee-ball and one season as an intern with front office of the San Francisco Giants. Growing up, I eagerly embraced any sport that came my way, but there was something about baseball that made it stand above the others – its unique ability to bring people together. Some of the best conversations I ever had with my parents took place while playing catch in the yard.
With regularity, a group of the neighborhood kids would gather and play baseball in the street or any suitable patch of grass we could find. We didn’t spend a lot of time together outside of those games (we went to different schools, had different schedules), but during those moments of play we were united as one. And again it was baseball – personified in Jackie Robinson – that first helped me understand that deep, seemingly intractable national wounds could begin to heal. I witnessed baseball’s ability to bring together family, communities and cultures, and I never forgot that lesson.
IP: How did the concept for Because Baseball come about?
One only has to turn on the television, open a newspaper or scan the web to find stories of division and conflict dominating the narrative today. It was during my many years working with the Middle East that I watched the region – indeed the entire world – grow increasingly tumultuous and divided. Sensing that current conventional approaches to bridge building were ineffective, I found inspiration in the baseball lessons of my youth. I became convinced that the national pastime could be a common language of friendship the world over. The next step was deciding where to begin the effort.
Knowing that Major League Baseball had sent delegations in 1889 and 1914, Egypt seemed like the logical place to continue a legacy. That inkling was only reinforced when research uncovered a temple outside the ancient city of Aswan containing the 400-BC relief of a pharaoh holding what looks like a bat and ball. So, Egypt became the perfect starting point for Because Baseball to build bridges within the Middle East among families, communities, and cultures… all through baseball.
IP: What’s the short/long-term vision for Because Baseball?
This spring alone we reached over one thousand kids through our Egypt Youth League (the first Major League Baseball RBI affiliate in the Middle East), school programs and orphanage outreach events. Because Baseball is just starting to scratch the surface of baseball in the region.
Over the next few years we will expand our offerings in Egypt with additional youth leagues and community-based programs. We also plan to deliver baseball to nearby countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Ten years from now? I envision baseball being played all over the Middle East, with teams from Egypt and a number of other regional countries competing in the Olympics. And just imagine when the first Egyptian, Saudi, Jordanian or other Middle Easterner emerges to play in the Major Leagues.
IP: How others can get involved with what you are doing?
Because Baseball regularly offers short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities that offer a chance to participate as a pioneer in this historic effort while experiencing the best of Egypt’s cultural and historical offerings. Picture yourself coaching kids baseball in the morning, visiting the pyramids in the afternoon and then dining on a Nile sunset cruise…truly the perfect day!
If you cannot make the trip to Egypt, there are ways you can get involved with Because Baseball’s exciting work. First, follow us on social media (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – all @BecauseBaseball) and share the great news of baseball’s arrival in the Middle East. We are fully funded by private donors, so we’re always looking for financial partners to help. Your gift will allow us to bring smiles of joy to young children as they learn the sport for the first time. Visit https://www.becausebaseball.org/donate
and join the Because Baseball team.
IP: What’s the most unique experience you’ve seen/shared with others so far?
It’s hard to beat playing catch at the pyramids. We took a group of our Egyptian youth players and their families to the pyramids to play the first game of baseball at that location since the 1914 Giants-White Sox game. Being a part of history is incredibly gratifying.
Secondly, it is always moving to watch Egyptian kids from all backgrounds first learn to play the game. Baseball has so much meaning to so many on this side of the ocean. It’s really exciting to watch these new players take so much joy in the game… and they are really talented too!
Visit Because Baseball at: www.BecauseBaseball.org