Professional baseball league ‘may come’ to India: MLB spokesperson Ryo Takahashi
Speaking to Hindustan Times, MLB Business Development Manager and spokesperson Ryo Takahashi revealed how baseball is being made popular in India and the activities done by his organisation in the country.
With baseball growing in popularity in India, the final of MLB Cup 2022 turned out to be an epic encounter as Pune Mariners edged past Satara Blue Jays 16-6 at the Noida Cricket Stadium, on Sunday. Both teams reached the finals after hotly-contested semi-finals, where Pune defeated Kolhapur Braves 14-8 and Satara sealed an 8-7 victory against Ahmednagar Dodgers. Speaking on the first day of the final, MLB Business Development Manager and spokesperson Ryo Takahashi explained his organisation's plans on making baseball popular in India.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Takahashi pointed out that MLB are currently trying to build a fanbase by giving playing opportunities to children. He also revealed that MLB's First Pitch program, which integrates baseball in a school's physical education curriculum, has been implemented in 90 schools across New Delhi, Bombay and Bengaluru.
"We are currently focusing on building a fan base by giving opportunities for the children to familiarize themselves and play the game of baseball. As per of our grassroots initiative we conduct the MLB First Pitch program where we implement baseball in a school’s physical education curriculum. The First Pitch curriculum includes what we call an activity pack that PE teachers or a beginner in baseball can run activities that teach basic motor skills that relate to baseball. Over time kids learn the basic elements of the game. This program has been implemented in 90 schools across New Delhi, Bombay and Bengaluru in just 2022," he said.
Further elucidating on the MLB Cup, he said, "As a next step, we conduct a youth tournament for kids age 9-11 called the MLB Cup. We saw a dramatic increase in participation from 12 teams in 2021 to 113 in 2022. Regional tournaments were conducted in Hyderabad, Kerala, Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Indore, Bangalore, Bombay and Delhi between October and November. Starting today we are hosting the top 16 teams who have advanced their way through the regional tournament in the Noida Cricket Stadium for a three-day final tournament."
Every sport needs a scouting system to find the best talent within a country. But MLB hasn't been able to start that yet. Takahashi feels that although MLB hasn't begun scouting players in India for higher-level competition, the amount of traction received in their youth development programs is a step forward towards a talent-finding system.
"We are currently focused on youth participation and have not gotten into scouting players for higher-level competition. However, the amount of traction we have gained in our youth development programs keeps us optimistic about the potential and opportunities to develop elite talent in the future," he said.
Hoping for an Indian professional baseball league in the future, Takahashi feels that such a goal can only be reached when there will be enough coaches, players, investors and fans in the country. "Our goal is to build a solid self-sustaining baseball ecosystem through our initiatives. If we are able to accomplish that, there will be enough coaches, players, investors and fans to create a demand for baseball at a higher level. That may come in the form of a pro league or elite development for international competition but that is yet to be determined," he stated.