- - Monday, July 16, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Major League Baseball brings its annual summer All-Star classic to our nation’s capital this week. The best ballplayers, representing every MLB team, gather in one place for a fun-filled series of baseball events, including the All-Star Workout Day and the Home Run Derby. Friend and foe come together, setting pennant races and team loyalties aside for a couple of days, and everyone simply enjoys the remarkable game that is America’s pastime.

Baseball has a history of bringing people together. Nearly a century ago, different ethnic neighborhoods in certain U.S. metropolitan cities had huge animosity toward one and other, except on game day. Baseball bridged the divide.

Jackie Robinson’s name is forever etched in history, not because he was a U.S. senator or a war hero, but because he brought the races together via America’s favorite game. No. 42 paved the way for integration in all kinds of institutions, pubic and private, by gracefully handling the slings and arrows launched his way while he played a game. Not just any game though. He played the magical sport of baseball.

What is it about baseball that brings people together? Father and son, neighbor with neighbor and, gasp, baseball even unites, if only for a few hours, Democrats and Republicans.

What if we could bottle and export the mystical healing elixir that is baseball? While we can’t really bottle it, one man has a vision of exporting it to some of the most troubled parts of the globe to see if we can duplicate baseball’s unique healing and unifying effects there.

Kemp Gouldin is the man with the vision. He believes if Jackie Robinson and baseball could play a role in bringing our country together, maybe baseball could serves as an equally effective tool in the Middle East. Maybe children and families playing our beloved pastime can heal some of the divide there.

Mr. Gouldin is a sales and marketing executive. He has traveled much of the Middle East and says he developed a heart for the region and its people, “but conflict seemed to be the rule of the day.” His travels in Egypt led to what he calls his epiphany moment. All the lessons of U.S. baseball, family, culture and race began to crystallize in his mind. Surely America isn’t the only place the sport could have such a positive, healing influence.

Ironically, Mr. Gouldin’s own organized playing experience is limited to a single season of T-ball, but his Richmond, Virginia, childhood was full of neighborhood ball games and he speaks warmly of his dad yelling “Pop Up” throwing balls to Kemp and his brother. The family went to see the Richmond Braves, a minor-league affiliate of Atlanta, play and Kemp watched names like Glavine, Smoltz and Jones make their way through the ranks. His love affair with the game was cemented when he landed an internship with the San Francisco Giants.

As Mr. Gouldin began to explore the concept of taking the bat, ball and bases to the Middle East he found some interesting history. In Egypt, there are drawings from 400 BC from the Temple of Philae in Aswan that appear to show pharaohs holding a bat and ball. Could some version of baseball have been in the south of Egypt 2,500 years ago? Archaeologists seem to think so.

More recently, Albert Spaulding took professional baseball to Egypt and around the globe. In 1889, the Chicago White Stockings traveled the planet playing games against the NL All-Stars. In 1914, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants made Egypt part of their world tour.

In 2018, Kemp Gouldin wants to do more than put on an exhibition in Egypt. He wants to plant the seeds of something that will grow and prosper. It was with that in mind that Mr. Gouldin founded Because Baseball. Since 2016, he has made 10 trips to Egypt specifically for the purpose of bringing organized baseball to children there. With the help of the GABR Foundation and some very influential friends at Major League Baseball, Mr. Gouldin is enjoying early success. What started with some fund raising from family and friends grew into assistance from Chris Marineck at MLB. MLB Partner Pitch In for Baseball helped get equipment for 100 kids and one year ago the first Egypt program became a reality.

In the United States, Because Baseball has support from the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland A’s and the Washington Nationals. Overseas, Mr. Gouldin wrangled some ex-pats with a love of baseball to commit to help and found several Egyptian adults who were willing to give their time. He says the easiest part was finding interested kids.

His goals moving forward are to have multiple leagues in multiple countries within five years and he hopes within 10 years to have Middle Eastern kids competing internationally against one and other. You can hear the excitement in his voice when he says, “Who knows, maybe in 15 years we’ll have our first MLB draft pick from the Middle East.”

The biggest needs for Because Baseball are partners and kindred spirits. It takes money to run any program and Egypt provides fertile territory for this growing this one. Mr. Gouldin points out there are 75 million people under the age of 25. This year, Because Baseball is expanding the number of children in Egypt with eight teams of 8- to 12-year-olds near Cairo, and Mr. Gouldin says they have two orphanages participating.

Kemp Gouldin is using baseball to bring the world together, one at-bat at a time.

To learn more about Because Baseball and/or to learn how you can help, visit BecauseBaseball.org.

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