November can’t come soon enough for Kash Shaikh.
The chairman and chief executive of Baseball United, the first professional league dedicated to baseball in the Middle East and Asia, last week signed a partnership with the UAE Cricket Council, five months before the organization officially launches competition.
Everything in the Dubai League is steadily on track.
The baseball league’s debut will feature four teams facing off in four games, followed by an eight-team league a year later.
“It’s very exciting for us,” Sheikh told Arab News in Dubai. “It’s historic for the League, it’s historic for professional baseball. It’s historic for the sport in the region because for the first time in our history, we’ve been challenged by an international organization that no other international organization has ever been. In partnership with the UAE Cricket Board, we were awarded a 15-year tenure to host, lead and develop professional level baseball in the UAE, all the way up to youth level.
“We are very pleased that Abu Dhabi and Dubai can become the foundation of professional baseball in the Middle East.”
Initially, the league’s rosters will be filled with established international players, but the agreement opens the door to developing regional talent for years to come.
“I am very grateful to the ECB, including its Chairman, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, and its Vice-Chairman, Khaled Zarouni, for their vision, conviction and support. Part of it is how we grow with football at a youth level in the UAE. How we help young children get inspired by the game, how we help young children by creating and introducing a new sport in the region that they crave. The child becomes more active.”
Development and talent programs are planned to be set up in India and Pakistan, as well as the GCC countries, where Sheikh has been meeting senior sports and government officials in recent weeks to gain support from the baseball federation.
“The excitement and momentum we’ve built within the GCC over the past few weeks has been amazing,” he said. “When we announced our first team, the Mumbai Cobras, a little over a month ago, everything really started to pick up speed in baseball. Then we announced our second team, the Karachi Monarchs, and every time we announced, things started to pick up. After Karachi, we made a strategic decision to really involve the right leadership and the right organization across the GCC.
“We went to Saudi Arabia and spent four days in Riyadh where we met the Saudi Arabian Baseball and Softball Federation. It was a fantastic team and they were led by CEO Abdulrahman (Alshehri). The only baseball federation in the GCC region. But they’re the youngest in the world, they started in 2019. So they’ve got a lot of the fundamentals of strategy, goal focus — we’re going to work with them, on the technical side, on the technical side Help them in terms of training, and in terms of growth, even everything from marketing to content partnerships.”
In Doha, Sheikh met with the 2022 FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Bein Sports and the Qatar Junior League. Six stadiums used by the World Cup could be converted and used for baseball games.
“Obviously we have a lot of traction in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he added. “We met with investment funds, brand sponsors, appropriate government officials and had great support from the ECB throughout the process.”
Baseball’s growing roster of investors and endorsers includes Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Mariano Rivera, Barry Larkin and Albert Pujo Ernes and other former stars, as well as current player Elvis Andrews of the Chicago White Sox.
The progress of the project continues to make waves in the baseball world.
“It’s crazy,” says Sheikh, “it’s surreal how many people not only know what we’re building, but are excited about it. (Last weekend) Major League Baseball is playing an international game in London , it was part of their annual London series, and a lot of players called me from London – current investors as well as people who wanted to join, and said “Guys, League Baseball is the talk of the town”.
With that comes immediate responsibility, Sheikh said.
“The expectations are high and the bar is high,” he said. “We’re under a lot of pressure to deliver. But we welcome this opportunity because the eyes of the baseball world will be on us in November.”
Sheikh made it clear that, as a start-up, Baseball League does not intend to compete with Major League Baseball, but instead is committed to providing a unique experience for regional audiences and hopes to continue to grow in the years to come.
Joining the Mumbai Cobras and Karachi Monarchs in the November showcase are two yet-to-be-named teams from the GCC.
“I can tell you that the first two Middle Eastern professional baseball teams in history will be from the UAE,” he said. “I am delighted that Abu Dhabi and Dubai have received this honor, as the country has been the foundational birthplace of many sports in the region. The UAE leadership has always been passionate about growing sport. The visionaries who have driven the country’s development have been We all know that when society is vibrant and connected to sport, it helps the country grow.”
Two new teams could be announced as early as July.
“When we launched these two UAE teams, people saw the jerseys, they saw the hats and it became real, people had a team to support and I’m telling you, it took things to another level. , I can’t wait for that to happen.”