Baseball In Egypt? Meet The Group Making It Happen
Kemp Gouldin loves baseball. He enjoys playing it. He is happy to teach it.
But more importantly, Gouldin believes in baseball. He believes that baseball can create benefits that stretch far beyond the diamond.
Gouldin’s career has taken him around the world, and in doing so it has helped spark his passion. His goal is to make baseball a viable, thriving sport in Egypt. And starting from scratch, his Because Baseball group has established a foothold.
“Let’s bring baseball to Egypt. That was the driving factor behind (Because Baseball)," Gouldin said. "If baseball can really bring together family, community and culture in the U.S., why couldn’t that be applied anywhere?”
Gouldin and his ever-evolving group of volunteer coaches head over to Egypt multiple times a year, bringing baseball equipment and spreading the love of the game. The first trip in 2017 laid the foundation. In 2018, a league was established, and one of the Egyptian coaches came to the U.S. to help coach an American team before returning home as the best trained and most experienced baseball coach in the country. There was a spring league, and now everyone is gearing up for the fall league in November.
Currently, Because Baseball is taking applications for two coaching fellows for the fall season.
Now, there is an Egyptian baseball recreational league for kids. A few schools have added baseball to their PE curriculum, and there are plans to grow the game even further. Most importantly, with the equipment provided by Because Baseball and training of Egyptian coaches, the game is getting a foothold to develop organically.
“I want this to be something people in the region own,” Gouldin said. “I don’t want this to be something with a foreigner coming in. It was about building relationships with various foundations and finding kindred spirits.”
A few years ago, when Gouldin asked Egyptians what they knew about baseball, he quickly found that they barely knew anything about it. Someone may have heard about the Yankees, others had seen movies that featured baseball and had tried to decipher what was going on—one person remembered understanding that signs were spread by using fingers and head shakes.
But there was very little foundation for baseball in the country. There was one baseball field left from the time when significantly more foreigners were working in Egypt, but when Gouldin’s group got to planning it quickly realized that developing places to play would be crucial—they have found that they can make do with soccer fields. Getting bats, balls, gloves and helmets were also important. So Gouldin got to work lining up donations (Because Baseball is a non-profit 501c3).
As soon as Because Baseball started working at getting young players interested, they found a healthy amount of interest.
“What brought these kids out initially was the novelty of it. I think baseball plays to the senses in a different way than many sports. The crack of the bat, the sound of ball hitting leather. It’s unique,” Gouldin said. “With basketball, you hear the swish of the net, but there’s a (physical) connection with baseball. Baseball has that personal feel that very few sports have. I think our coaches are awesome. Both Egyptian and American coaches have a deep affection for the sport, and the game is fun. Curiosity brought (the kids) there and enjoyment kept them there.”
In the past year, former Giants GM Bobby Evans became one of Gouldin’s coaches. Gouldin had gotten to know Evans when Gouldin interned with the Giants in 2001. They stayed in touch after that and eventually Gouldin convinced Evans to join them on a trip to Egypt.
“I think the game of baseball is fun," Evans said. "Teaching it to kids is fun. Watching them pick up on ways to do things, I enjoyed it. We got a chance to work with a lot of kids. The coaches are learning how to teach the game, too."
This past spring, Because Baseball worked with over 1,000 Egyptian kids between its programs at schools, its league and its work with an orphanage.
And now those connections are coming back to the U.S. as well. Because Baseball and the Washington Nationals are hosting MLB’s first Arab Heritage Night on Sept. 25.
Gouldin hopes to eventually expand his program to other Middle Eastern countries. The goal is to spread baseball. But in the long run it is an attempt to do more.
“His vision is much larger than a simple youth baseball program," Evans said. "It’s about trying to create a common language between the Western world and the Middle East."