Words & Photos: Patrick Stark
Baseball is a sport that we, as South Africans, aren’t generally accustomed to, but it’s played by thousands countrywide. So let’s take a closer look at what this exciting, action-packed sport is all about.
Baseball was introduced to South Africa in 1898 by American gold miners who worked on the Crown Mines and City Deep shafts, in Witwatersrand (Gauteng). These miners were true baseball ambassadors: they brought equipment, constructed playing fields, and established the Giants Baseball Club in 1904. In line with the growing popularity of the sport, the Transvaal Baseball Association was formed in 1905.
Although the Americans brought baseball to the Transvaal, it was the Japanese who captivated the people of Port Elizabeth with this new ball game in 1934. Shortly thereafter, the South African Baseball Federation was formed in 1935 with the Western Province, Eastern Province, Border, Northern Transvaal, and Transvaal.
During the Second World War, baseball entered a quiet period, but resumed in earnest after 1945. Then in 1955, South Africa stepped onto the international stage when an all-American All Stars team toured South Africa. But this was short lived because in October 1963, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that South Africa had to eliminate racial discrimination in sport before 31 December1963 or the country would not be permitted to send a team to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Though the deadline was later extended to allow SA more time, the government was not prepared to permit multi-racial sports. As a result, the IOC did not invite SA to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. This was a heavy blow for South African sporting circles and the sport loving community.
Following Prime Minister J. B. Vorster's relaxed sports policy, a committee of the IOC visited SA in September 1967 to examine the situation. The committee presented a favourable report and stated that SA had undertaken to send a multi-racial team, selected on merit, to the next Olympic Games. On the strength of this report, SA was invited to the 1968 games in Mexico, but this elicited such sharp protests from black African countries, who threatened to withdraw if SA participated, that the IOC was obliged to withdraw its invitation in April 1969. The ban was only lifted prior to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, when the international community was convinced that SA was irrevocably on the road to political transformation and democracy.
Since the fall of the apartheid government in 1994 and South Africa’s return to international baseball, we have built up an impressive record. In 1999, we were undefeated in the Africa-Oceania Olympic qualifier; we finished 8th in the 2000 Olympics (3-2, in 10 innings, beating the current European Champions); played in two out of three Baseball World Classics (2006 and 2009); and are currently ranked 29th out of 79 countries.
During this time, the game has also spread to the nation’s capital, Tshwane (Pretoria), Natal, and many other areas, including rural townships. Today, participation in adult and youth leagues is estimated at more than 250,000 players. That’s about a third of what rugby claims.
Although South Africa has a baseball history that spans more than 100 years, the sport remains in the shadow of rugby, soccer, and cricket. In fact, most South Africans are not even aware that baseball is played in their country. The baseball community is very much like our hockey community; both struggle with financial backing, they are constantly hampered by politics and infighting, and are in the shadow of traditional sports like rugby, cricket, and football.
As a result of these challenges, developing baseball in South Africa has proved challenging. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Africa was recently identified as the Major League Baseball’s (MLB) next major development project. The MLB currently run and sponsor the African Baseball Academy in Cape Town, where local, national, and club coaches get to meet and be trained by some of the world’s best coaches. The MLB also invites many of Africa’s top players to this academy to be trained and possibly even scouted by the international coaches. In addition, we have a group of wonderfully talented players, who are committed to putting our country and this sport on the map again, and dipping into their pockets to see this happen. But they cannot do it alone. With support from government and corporates, as well as ordinary South Africans, we can take baseball to a whole new level. And who knows, it might even give our traditional sports a run for their money.
Baseball in South Africa is played under the direction of the South African Baseball Union and at club level. The clubs are affiliated to provincial/regional governing bodies, for example, Cape Town clubs are affiliated to the Baseball Association of the Western Province. Currently, the hot spots, in terms of baseball talent, lie in the Eastern Cape, Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.
The 10-team wooden bat league (top leagues that make use of wooden bats, as seen on TV (ESPN Major League Baseball), whilst some of the lower leagues make use of metal bats), which has produced numerous players who have gone on to play professional baseball in the United States and Europe. Additionally, more than three-quarters of the players from the South African National Team, who competed in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, were products of the Western Province Major League.
Locally, the annual National Inter-Provincial Tournament is where all the National Provincial teams compete to become the National Champions. This tournament is for participants in the age groups of Under 14, 16, 18, and Seniors. In addition to competing for top honours, the selection of players for international tournaments is conducted throughout the tournament by selectors.
South Africa is a notoriously athletic and competitive nation and remains the only African nation to have competed in international events, such as the World Baseball Classics and 2000 Olympics. More recently, a 20-man strong SA U18 team faced the United Kingdom in a five-game series, which was held in Johannesburg from 23 to 25 August 2013. They won the series 4-0. Included in this team were five Bothasig Baseball Club members: Darren Boltman (first base), Keenan Clarke (catcher), Jordan King (pitcher), Tyrone Milne (catcher), and Dylan Stark (pitcher). These five men were also part of the WP U18 A Team that won Gold in the Inter-Provincial Tournament held in Cape Town, in April 2013.
When asked how they felt about being included in the SA National Team, this is what they had to say.
Keenan Clarke said, “This has been my dream since the age of four when my dad introduced me to this wonderful game called baseball. Being included in the SA National Team is such an honour and thus far, the greatest achievement in my life.”
Darren Boltman said, “I could not have done this without the support of my coaches, senior players, and my parents. I will wear the colours with pride and passion and proudly represent it to the best of my ability.”
Jordan King said, “It has always a dream of mine to represent my country in baseball. I would not have been selected if it was not for my coaches and parents encouragement, and working hard for what I love most - the game of baseball!”
Dylan Stark concluded, “I am over the moon! It's such an amazing accomplishment to be told that you are one of the top 20 players in the country; it does wonders for your confidence. It also proves to yourself that all the hard work and effort has paid off and that we can only get better."
Join the club
Established in 1974, the Bothasig Baseball Club is a fine example of a club that has a vested interest in the development of baseball in South Africa. With a long and proud heritage, the club boasts a history of international achievements, as well as fantastic community involvement and participation. It's affiliated to the Baseball Association of the Western Province, with additional accreditation to the South African Baseball Union. Currently the largest player-attending baseball club in South Africa, its success can be attributed to the parents’ involvement, a dynamic team of coaches, and dedicated committee members, managers, and scorers.
Growing the youth
Youngsters aged between 5 and 16 are well supported by accredited coaches and can be seen hard at training during the week evenings and playing matches on Saturdays, as early as 08h00! With baseball glove in hand and cap on heart, they recite the Players Pledge of Baseballers. The club tasks its senior players, many of them current and past South African team members, to umpire these games so that the youngsters can see what is achievable in the long term, through dedication, teamwork, and a sense of pride in their club. Once a month, these youngsters are put through their paces by the Major League and Major League Reserve Teams, who help with additional fieldwork, pitching, hitting, and specialised training.
Stars in the making
Senior teams train under the diligent and vastly experienced guidance of numerous advanced and qualified coaches. The 2013/14 senior pre-season fitness training is progressing well and we foresee a focused and determined effort from our young men to achieve success in this year’s league. With many of our current senior players having played for South Africa on the international stage, we continue to guide, mentor, and share baseball expertise with the younger men joining these ranks.
In August 2013, the City of Cape Town Award was presented to Bothasig Baseball Club in recognition of the club’s dedication to sports development within the community, the fantastic ambassadorship shown by the club and its members. Further acknowledgement was given in view of the major representation of club members that were recently selected into the Western Province baseball teams, and took part in the Inter-Provincial Tournament held in April 2013.
If this article has sparked an interest, why not join the baseball community of South Africa and help put this exciting sport firmly on the map.
If you would like to find out more about baseball in your area, visit www.bawp.co.za. To find out more about Bothasig Baseball Club, contact or